How the hangover could be a marketing opportunity for soft drinks - Comment

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We (nearly) all suffer from them, and yet we all counter them with different measures. Could the soft drinks industry be missing an opportunity to surf the hangover wave? Richard Corbett reports.

Could the hangover be an opportunity for the soft drinks category?

Could the hangover be an opportunity for the soft drinks category?

In the UK, a new trend has emerged in the month of January. After the excesses of the festive period, many consumers choose to abstain from alcohol for a month and raise money for various charitable causes. 'Dry January' as it is known, has been around for several years but, this year, it really started to make a dent in beer sales in the opening 31 days of the year. The beer industry need not worry too much, with feedback suggesting consumers tend to reward themselves in February, so much of the loss is restored.

If people are not drinking alcohol in January, then, are they drinking more soft drinks instead? Certainly, in years gone by, I can remember some canny campaigns from Evian encouraging people to detox in the month after Christmas by substituting booze for water. The concept of detox would certainly justify the current focus on adult soft drinks by some drink operators.

How soft drinks can win big when targeting adult consumers - Click here for a just-drinks comment

There is an argument to be put that alcohol consumption - or, more specifically, too much alcohol consumption - helps boost demand for soft drinks, maybe even more than a period of outright abstinence from alcohol does. A night of over-indulgence gives way to the misery of a hangover, the main symptom of which is dehydration. Soft drinks are the antidote for that dehydration and although it is impossible to measure, you can assume that a considerable volume of soft drinks drunk around the world is done so to appease the wrath of a hangover.

Scottish soft drink Irn Bru, the distinctive orange drink "made from girders", developed a reputation for its powers as a hangover remedy. This, no doubt, contributed to the popularity of the drink in the homeland of the 'water of life', whisky. The Scottish comedian and singer Billy Connolly even wrote a song dedicated to the producers of the drink. An Ode to Mr and Mrs Barr was sung to thank them for "for saving my life on so many Sunday mornings".

It's fair to say that one factor that accounts for the spectacular success of energy drinks in the last few decades has undoubtedly been because these liquid stimulants are used as a 'morning-after' pick-me-up. Ironically, people would often use the energy drink during the night before as a spirits mixer and then drink it straight the next day to make themselves more operational. The traditional medication for over-indulgence had always been a cup of coffee, but energy drinks were able to offer a more thirst-quenching method of ingesting the caffeine dose.

I imagine it is not just athletes, sportspeople and people who exercise that drink sports drinks. That's probably why petrol stations specifically and the convenience channel generally account for so many sports drink sales. The electrolytes are a good vehicle for rehydrating participants in sport and those who have overdone it the night before. Juices and smoothies too are often harnessed as a way for replacing the nutrients lost and helping to quench the thirsty side-effects of a hangover. The effectiveness of bottled water as a counter to a hangover speaks for itself.

The soft drinks industry unquestionably benefits from the common hangover, but could the sector make even more of an opportunity from this weekly - dare I say, daily? - consumer ill?  A quick online search of 'hangover cure' throws up a plethora of suitable ingredients that could be formulated into a drink to ease the symptoms of brewer's flu.

You could start with some coconut water, which is a powerful natural source of electrolytes, helping the sufferer to rehydrate. Add some tomato juice as well: A study in Japan demonstrated that tomato juice triggers enzymes in the liver on top of the ones normally activated by consuming alcohol. Tomatoes also contain fructose, which helps the process of metabolism of alcohol. 

Some apples and bananas can be utilised to replace the potassium that has been drained from the body. Juice a cabbage as well, to help stabilise blood glucose levels, and put that in. Perhaps, include some beetroot or a dash of milk thistle for the longer term welfare of the liver. Finally, maybe add some ginger or even some fizz for the nausea. 

Put it in a 50cl can, or a big bottle too because your consumer will probably want to drink in some quantity. They will also pay a premium for it too and, if it works, they probably won't mind what it tastes like.

The problem for marketers hoping to sell a concoction purporting to aid the hangover is the stigma associated with buying it. Anybody over 21, for example, will be very reluctant to be seen drinking it. Marketing the claims that it cures a hangover will also no doubt prove problematic. It looks, then, like the soft drinks industry will just have to carry on quietly benefiting from the after-effects of a night on the town.

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