By Jeffrey Klineman

Sure, 5-Hour Energy gets all the attention.It should: the company is one of the new millennium’s most impressive meatspace success stories, taking the rising tide of energy drinks and rethinking them into a smaller package. If energy drinks are the mega-version of the soda, then 5-Hour Energy is almost a reimagining of the very same morning espresso that has powered Europe for centuries – a tiny shot that, rather than coming hot and bitter, is in a sweet, portable, oh-so-American package.

There’s no arguing with energy as the key to the success of the shot format – just as most of the functional beverage category has been driven by interest in energy, as well. The simple need-and-efficient-fulfillment of that need exchange that takes place from caffeine ingestion has proven to be, in some ways, format agnostic, just so long as the key ingredient is present.

But the shot format is also lending itself to the array of other functionalities and need states, and they are matching the same universe of functional beverages, only it’s a… smaller universe. So you see bite-sized versions of many wellness products: high-antioxidant juices; protein supplements; probiotics and kombuchas; sleep aids; and, of course, hangover fighters.

What’s the reason behind the interest in ingesting these products as shots rather than other food and drink formats? That’s the wrong question, actually. Consumers are looking to ingest these kinds of products any way they can – it’s just that the format itself is slightly more mature than some, and slightly less mature than others, according to a recent report by the food and beverage consulting firm Sloane Trends, which compared shots to formats like pills, gummy bear-like “jellies” and other delivery methods.

Then the question becomes, which consumers are going for the shots, and that’s an easy one to answer: according to the Sloane Trends report, shots are gaining plenty of traction as a delivery device; they hold certain advantages (easy to swallow, easy to carry) but haven’t fully filtered their way all the way up. For instance, while 1/3 of consumers 18-24 said they had consumed an energy shot in the past month, according to another report, by retail information firm Symphony/IRI, that number dropped way down when the average age was 55 or older.

But that’s bound to change, as well – for one thing, consumer trends often start young and grow into older demographics organically. For another, 5-Hour is reaching out to that older demographic deliberately, as well, targeting golf shops and NPR with merchandising and sponsorship. No heavy metal concerts here, but as the format becomes more familiar, it extends to other types of products.

So if the delivery device is moving to provide functions, where are those particular deliverables in terms of their development? Here’s a summary to think about as you assemble your shelf set:


Rising Tide: Probiotics and Kombuchas

Products like Goodbelly and Hain Celestial Kombucha Energy Shots are aimed at the rising tide of probiotic interest in the U.S. Both take the “live” probiotic qualities of their larger bottles and cartons and reduce them down to the quick-consumption model of the shot format. It’s interesting that more kombucha makers haven’t tried this to date, although given the difficulties of processing kombucha into a RTD format, maybe that isn’t too surprising. Still, a move into shots by a major marketer like GT’s could be a slam-dunk in the natural channel, which has proven to be surprisingly supportive of shots like Guayaki (see below) and I AM. That would certainly seem to be the thought behind the Hain release, as well as others like Karvana.


Muscling In: Protein

Manufacturers started employing shots as a protein delivery system fairly soon after they broke out in energy, but they didn’t become much more than an occasional oddity until recently, when technology began improving the taste and concentration of large amounts of protein in a small package. Protein’s profile as a functional ingredient – for satiety and fitness uses – has become part of mainstream RTD and mixes, and now many athletes and bodybuilders are looking to protein shots as convenient ways to fulfill their ever-expanding protein requirements (after all, lugging a jug of powder mix around all day isn’t practical). There have been endorsements in this space – both NASCAR driver A.J. Allmendinger and eternal pro wrestling champ Ric Flair have affiliations with BYB Brands’ Fuel in a Bottle, for example – and even mainstream involvement, with the Sunkist growers’ collective backing an innovative multi-shot bag format of daily protein shots. Still, there are issues: a recent recall of protein shots by supplement company Protica indicates that, like all functional products that can trace a direct line to the supplement world, sourcing is key.


40 Winks: Relaxation and Sleep Aids

The relaxation shot market is fairly mature at this point, having basically co-evolved with the relaxation drink market, but achieving a certain amount of legitimacy early on behind the success of products like Dream Water. That brand, and a few others like it, have taken a fairly straightforward approach to the category, mostly skirting around the “party time” aura that early category entrants adopted while also finding a way to avoid FDA concerns over misrepresenting themselves as beverages. Instead, consumers who pick them up are nonplussed by the use of melatonin – the products seem to be sleep aids through and through.


For Before the Party: Antioxidants

Sure, it was a rough ride for Bazi, a highly concentrated “wellness” shot that combined some of the highest ORAC-value fruits and vegetables around into a package that ultimately didn’t click with consumers on a retail basis. But there have been positive signs for antioxidant shots as well: while Guayaki shots are marketed primarily behind their energy benefits, they are well known for the high-antioxidant value of their key ingredient, Yerba Mate. FRS has innovated with shot versions of its quercetin-laden products, even suggesting that the shots can be diluted in water to make – yep – an actual beverage. Other high-ORAC score products, like coffee fruit extract brand Kona Red are also offering their antioxidant-rich drinks in a shot format, as well.


For the Afterparty: Sex and Hangovers

Again, this is a functionality where products are in early stages of category development across the board: just as there has only been a true runaway in the recovery drink arena via products that are hitched to energy drinks like Rockstar or Monster, so too have hangover remedy shots faltered when it comes to the manufacture of a category leader. That’s not to say there aren’t interesting plays: Rebootizer, for example, takes the shot format and combines it with a mix-to-drink package, selling two-stage pouches that consumers can mix themselves.  Meanwhile, fading media titans Playboy and Penthouse have both offered libido enhancement shots – products that are likely trumped by the existence of actual prescription libido enhancement.


Meanwhile, as more and more companies have tried to take on the energy shot business, the company that started it all is starting to move into a different set of products: it just committed more than $100 million to the development and marketing of an appetite suppression “nutrition bar.” Once again proving that there’s more than one way to deliver functionality – and, possibly, profits, as well.