I'd drink it if it tasted good and the calorie count was low. Probably for no other reason, though...
It has to be better for you than sodas, right....?
The success of energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar have proven that consumers are constantly thirsting for a boost. But will they ever want to come back down and reach for a nonalcoholic drink that will help them chill out? According to the recent sales figures from Innovative Beverage Group, a Houston-based drink distributor and maker of a "relaxation beverage" called Drank, there's strong demand for the anti–Red Bull too. The company's revenues, though small, were up 198% in 2008, to $2.2 million, and it turned a $172,000 profit last year, compared with a $320,000 loss in 2007. Peter Bianchi, founder and CEO of Innovative Beverage, says first quarter '09 revenues, fueled by Drank's success, are up 534% year over year. During the past few months, the company has signed a slew of distribution deals in places like Atlanta, St. Louis, Mo., and Grand Rapids, Mich. And at the end of April, the emerging brand scored the big one: 7-Eleven announced it would roll out Drank to stores nationwide. During the testing phase, Drank doubled 7-Eleven's sales expectations. While it takes the convenience chain five to six months to test and roll out most drinks, 7-Eleven rushed Drank to market in just 90 days.
What the heck is this stuff? On its purple cans, Drank calls itself an "Extreme Relaxation Beverage." The drink's motto: "Slow your roll." Bianchi, a former financier who started Innovative Beverage seven years ago and introduced Drank in early 2008, pitches his product as an alternative to alcohol. "We wanted to give the people on the go something to drink during the day which would help them relax, calm down, and not have to keep an old bottle of gin in their drawer," says Bianchi. You can also take a sip before bedtime and perhaps save yourself some cash the next day. "Something like this gives you a better night's sleep," says Bianchi. "You're going to wake up feeling better rested and less apt to get a double venti-venti-venti at Starbucks, then wash it down with a Red Bull just to get through your day." (See the top 10 food trends of 2008.)
The name Drank has roots in Houston's hip-hop scene; "purple drank" is a slang term for an illegal concoction that mixes codeine syrup with soft drinks or alcohol. Several Houston community leaders have protested the beverage's name, arguing that it glorifies the drug culture. Bianchi, however, insists that Drank, despite its purple can and name, is not referring to purple drank. Of course it isn't. "The word drank is celebratory slang," he says. "The name of my product is hip and fun to say: 'I'm going to get my drank on,' " Bianchi says, sounding quite un-hip. A clever marketer, Bianchi isn't exactly ducking the dustup. "We wanted something fun, something that was a healthy alternative to people for using drugs and alcohol," he says. "If there's controversy about it, it only brings attention to our product."
Drank's ingredients could stir an even bigger controversy. Melatonin, valerian root and rose hips give Drank its calming effect. Melatonin is a hormone that is sometimes used to treat insomnia and jet lag. A medicinal herb, valerian root relaxes the central nervous system and can quell anxiety. The rose hips provide antioxidants. But do I really want to buy a pharmacological mix at 7-Eleven? Is it safe to drink this cocktail over the counter? "I would not recommend it," says David DiPersio, clinical pharmacist at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "Valerian roots and rose hips are not really reviewed by the FDA. You can't be certain of the safety and efficacy of the drink." DiPersio adds that withdrawal from valerian root has caused seizures.
Bianchi notes that melatonin, valerian root and rose hips are all on the FDA's list "Generally Regarded As Safe," or GRAS, right alongside sugar and salt. "Anything to excess is going to be bad for you," Bianchi says. "I can sleep at night with confidence that our consumers can enjoy and be fine with the product." The CEO says no one has complained of Drank side effects. For DiPersio, however, GRAS isn't good enough. "Just because something is on the GRAS list doesn't mean the product is definitely safe," he says. "You don't know the source or purity of possible contaminants."
We're a caffeinated culture, so will the masses want to move in the other direction and drink Drank to come down? We know beer and wine will relax us, but how exactly are these weird chemicals in a purple can altering our body chemistry? On the flip side, the Drank concept taps into the dominant trend in the beverage industry. Cola sales have sunk as people move to functional drinks that promise to hydrate you, focus you, give you a boost and perhaps calm you down. "Consumers want the added benefit," says Tom Pirko, president of Bevmark LLC, a consulting firm. "If you're a new player, the label on the can better send a very strong message that it's doing something else for you besides just tasting good. The industry is verging on pharmacology."
And consumers are drinking it up. Bianchi, whose company trades publicly on the over-the-counter market, is making very bold promises for Drank and its potential shareholders. "By the end of the year, I will be in every grocery store in America and every food-drug chain in America, just like Red Bull," Bianchi boasts. "I'm in negotiations with every major drug chain and every major grocery store chain, and I will go on the record and say it's with them contacting us, without our solicitation to them." Bianchi rattles off the list of chains he says have come calling: Walgreens, CVS, Sam's Club, Costco, Wal-Mart, Target, Albertsons, Kroger, Safeway.
Will Bianchi back up his big talk? Well, a sedation movement would make some sense, given all the stresses surrounding us. "In this time of great anxiety, anything that allows you to be calm has tremendous benefit attached to it," says Pirko. "The timing might be perfect on this." So kick back, relax and crack open a purple can. Just Drank at your own risk.