Published Nov. 3, 2010
View as PDFThe Big Chill
Relaxation drinks. Fuel for an inactive lifestyle.
Energy drinks are a multibillion-dollar business. Names like Red Bull and Monster stand at the top of the category, but parasitic brands such as Steaz, NOS or KaBoom are around to fight for the crumbs of profit.
My friend Adam is in the drink biz as the associate publisher of Beverage Spectrum Magazine and BevNet.com, and together we once toyed with the idea of entering the market. We even had product samples made of a shot we called Midnight Oil, but our plans never got off the ground. It may have been our complete lack of drive, capital or business sense, but failure was practically assured anyway. The category is oversaturated, and some people had doubts about the name. One former intern, Kyle, said it sounded like a sexual lubricant.
With the market sealed, some entrepreneurs have created an equal and opposite reactionary product: relaxation drinks. In the same cans packed with caffeine and B vitamins come beverages like Tranquila and iChill, infused with rose hips and kava root. The sector has little traction at the moment, with the sales leader pulling in just $5 million in revenue, but that just means there’s opportunity for growth. So I decided to investigate the competition. As I was also starting a new position, I figured my nerves could use the help. Plus Kyle had returned as our new editorial assistant. Here was my chance to help with his first-week jitters, and exact revenge for that lubricant comment.
“This tastes like Dimetapp mixed with beer,” said Kyle, sucking down a Drank. Debuting in this region last December, Drank is the category’s most recognizable name. With ingredients like valerian root—which some studies have shown causes abnormal heartbeat—and melatonin—which can disrupt circadian rhythms—Drank pulls no punches in knocking you out. Never comfortable chatting with strangers, I chugged a can before an interview and magically transformed into punch-drunk Charlie Rose. I faltered; I stammered; I did everything short of drool. Across town, Kyle eventually passed out, missed two phone calls and ended up in bed by 9:30 pm.
Before a night out, I gulped a can of Lean, similar in formula to Drank. After meeting up with my girlfriend, she took one look in my dreamy, slightly glassy eyes, and accused me of being high.
There are less severe alternatives. Some, like Novocaine, which Kyle deemed a complete failure, feature kava root extract as the main active ingredient. I rather liked the Relaxing Tea, but even these lighter drinks come with printed warnings to not exceed two bottles per day. All of them claim to be lifestyle beverages, but I can’t see how you can consume them while simultaneously leading a productive life. The only time I could draw a positive effect was when I’d face a project, drink a can, and then try and get everything completed before the melatonin kicked in.
That may have been the wrong approach, so I called Drank CEO Peter Bianchi, who apparently drinks his product throughout the day. As Bianchi sees it, Drank is a safe alternative to “the bottle of Jack Daniel’s in your drawer for when you’re pulling your hair out, or the bottle of Valium your doctor prescribed.” At Hunter S. Thompson, Inc., yes, I suppose Drank is a healthier choice. But what of Drank’s clear allusion to drank, aka lean, aka the recreational consumption of prescription-strength cough syrup? Hedges Bianchi, “In ‘I Gotta Feeling,’ when Fergie says ‘Drank!’ she’s not talking about promethazine, she’s saying ‘Let’s have a drank.’ This is a celebratory beverage.” I voiced my doubts about the products viability, but Bianchi assured me, “Call BevNet. They’ll tell you this is the most explosive category in the industry.”
“Well, anyone with a brand is going to say that,” said Adam, later on the phone. Fresh from a Vegas trade show, he’d seen a lot of new entrants to the market, but said, “It’s still such a young category. Distributors are still hesitant and worried to pick up unknown products, just because they don’t want to be burned.”
While unpaid bills are an understandable concern, the bigger problem might be a target demographic too tired to purchase another can.
Truth be told, I drank a Red Bull before writing this. I needed the energy, and getting tasks done is what eliminates my stress. The two fingers of whiskey is the reward, not the crutch. But when the time comes to relax, I don’t always need the help. I’m already sleepy.