Cheribundi’s Challenge: Amplify Its Athletes

The Chicago Blackhawks, the same team that won or tied an NHL record 24 consecutive games this past season, the eventual Stanley Cup champions, rely on Cheribundi so much, according to CEO Brian Ross, that he once delivered the tart cherry juice to a hotel where the team was resting on the road.

The Blackhawks aren’t alone in their dependence, but Ross said that most consumers don’t know that yet.

“It’s kind of this big secret that we don’t want to keep a secret,” he said.

Ross is hoping to change that: in a few weeks, the company will launch a new website that aims for more interactivity and a better focus on the clientele of teams.

Ross said that about 90 teams from the NHL, NFL, MLB, NBA and NCAA regularly drink Cheribundi. Teams from the NFL include the New England Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New York Giants and the Seattle Seahawks, to name a few. MLB teams include the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Mets. The NBA’s Houston Rockets and the New York Knicks also drink it.

The primary benefits exist in the anti-inflammatory properties of tart cherries, the main ingredient in Cheribundi. Team dieticians recommend Cheribundi for its dose of anthocyanins, an antioxidant found in tart cherries credited with the ability to improve cognitive and motor functions and to enhance visual acuity, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). Research from the Oregon Health & Science University found that tart cherries have the highest anti-inflammatory content of any food, which could help prevent bone diseases and encourage muscle and joint recovery. Tart cherries also contain melatonin, which the NCBI found can regulate the sleep-wake cycle.

Ross said that he’s working on endorsement deals with a few NFL players and that every team in the Pac-12 now drinks it. If they didn’t, he said, one team could lose its edge against the other, or at least think that it could lose its edge against the other.

Tommy Moffitt, the strength and conditioning coordinator of the Louisiana State University (LSU) football team, said that his team loves Cheribundi’s recovery effects.

“The quality is the best that there is,” Moffitt wrote in an e-mail. “We’ve been using Cheribundi for three years and our athletes recover far better than they ever did before. I recommend Cheribundi products to both our current and former athletes at LSU.”

Yet despite all of this material that a marketing department would gush over, Ross still sees an important disconnect. Despite the fact that the Blackhawks, Giants and New York Rangers have been drinking Cheribundi for nearly six years, and most of the other teams have been doing the same for about two to three years, Ross said that most consumers are only beginning to understand Cheribundi’s relationship with athletes.

“Our team business is just exploding, and it’s great when we go in and talk with the retailers about it,” he said, “but the next piece is we’ve got to get the consumer educated about it.”

The education process has started by reaching national distribution in Kroger stores, Albertsons, Wegmans, Stop & Shop and Whole Foods, among others. Ross said that Cheribundi can be found in Kroger produce sections with racks that communicate the information about its affiliation with sports teams and its health benefits.

Besides more prominently discussing Cheribundi’s role at the training table, the new site will feature its Facebook and Twitter pages and the Cheribundi blog. It will also advertise the brand’s latest marketing campaign: the Cheribundi 7-day Challenge, which encourages consumers to drink the product every day for seven days in a row. The company will send the participants coupons, collect information on the results and hope to keep the participants involved in the brand.

It seems that turning these participants into regular buyers and generating new mainstream interest will be a greater challenge than selling Cheribundi to the country’s most elite athletes.

“We’re not giving it to these teams or to the individual players,” Ross said. “They’re actually buying pallet quantities.”

Now he’ll discover if consumers, at their own pace and portions, will do the same.