New Momentum for Recovery Drinks

By Ray Latif

For most recovery drinks, the sales pitch is pretty simple: “Got a hangover? Drink THIS and feel better!” It’s a straightforward and clear-cut message that – unlike most other functional beverages – doesn’t need much in the way of explanation. The majority of single function beverages require a manufacturer to educate consumers about not only the benefits of the product, but also exactly why it will work. Recovery drinks, on the other hand, have a much looser window simply because they have such uncomplicated messaging. Heck, it’s even OK if they have don’t taste great!

Yet, while the jury’s still out of the actual efficacy of these hangover elixirs, one verdict is in: at least in terms of new products, the category is growing. One theory on the recent rise of the category is that bleary-eyed, headache-ridden individuals are more inclined to drop a couple bucks on something to alleviate their hangover, because, at the very least, they won’t feel any worse. But can that reasoning equate to staying power and longevity for recovery drinks? In a still nascent category, it remains to be seen.

However, consumer exposure and positive public perception of recovery drinks is rapidly growing as brands gain new distribution in a variety of retail channels and ramp up marketing and promotional efforts. With the category on the brink of mainstream acceptance, manufacturers are undoubtedly pulling for consumers to have that extra beer… or three.

Leading the charge for recovery drinks is Hangover Joe’s and its The Hangover Recovery Shot. The three-year old brand signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Warner Brothers Consumer Products in August to manufacture and distribute its shot with branding based on The Hangover movie franchise. The product, which features a bright yellow label and images of characters from the movie, has caught on like wildfire.

With instant brand awareness, The Hangover shot quickly gained distribution in the Midwest through Canada Dry Bottling and McDonald Distributing and placement in RaceTrac convenience stores throughout five states in the Southeast.  However, the biggest splash for Hangover Joe’s came in the form of national retail authorizations in 7-Eleven and GNC. Shawn Adamson, a managing director for Hangover Joe’s, points to the GNC deal as one that could position the brand as having far greater mainstream appeal.

“We will reach a wide demographic in GNC stores,” said Adamson. “People who have not seen our product will be exposed to… a product that is specific to hangover relief [as opposed to an energy shot].”

Countering Hangover Joe’s play with “The Hangover,” is GTOX which aligned itself with NBA Hall of Famer – and well-known partier – Dennis Rodman, to market the brand. GTOX, which uses Glucarate, a natural substance that purportedly turns alcohol toxins into water-soluble compounds, as its active ingredient, enlisted Rodman to promote it as his “secret ingredient” for hangover recovery and recently appeared on The Tonight Show to showcase his involvement with the brand. Over the next few months, GTOX will launch a series of new marketing promotions around Rodman, including an appearance at the Nightclub and Bar Show in Las Vegas.

GTOX is hoping to spin its partnership with Rodman into a larger presence in the marketplace.  The brand is distributed in Colorado, Texas, Nevada, and Illinois and is looking
to build out its network in through beer houses in Southern California and metro New York.

Not every product is looking to push hangover recovery as its chief function. Code Blue, which recently revamped its formulation and packaging, is now positioning itself as a recovery beverage, albeit one now emphasizing sports and fitness recovery.

While the company never using the word “hangover” in its branding or marketing, Steven Frumin, the co-founder of Code Blue said that the brand gained popularity among college students who consumed the beverage after a night of drinking alcohol – much as they would with other sports drinks such as Gatorade. Frumin said that a significant part of Code Blue’s consumer base now uses the product for hangover recovery, estimating that 30 percent of its business is in that space.

However, part of the reason that Frumin overhauled Code Blue was because he didn’t want the brand to be “pigeonholed” as a single function product. The company relaunched the product with a new look and branding that focuses on different aspects of the beverage, including hydration and exercise recovery. Frumin said that the product is now attempting to make the leap from a brand known for a single function – and a category still very much in its infancy – to a much larger arena.  As Frumin described it, the play is to go “from micro to macro.”

Frumin believes that hangover recovery will continue to be an important stream of revenue for Code Blue, but he described that area as stagnant.  He explained that for the segment to move forward, brands would need to shy away from a “gimmicky” approach to marketing and adapt to a rapidly evolving industry where consumers seek out multifunctional benefits in new products.

“We see hangover recovery as a second tier of functionality,” Frumin said.