Drinks for thought: Nootropic beverages offer brain benefits
Last year, the US market for energy drinks stood at $13.4-billion; according to Mintel that’s a 5.6 percent increase over the previous year. This, plus cold brew coffee’s increasing popularity and growing sales for functional beverages of various types, suggests that consumers are seeking beverages that can provide both physical and mental fuel throughout the day.
But within that rise in functional drinks — which contain familiar callouts to clean ingredients, low sugar, and steady caffeine levels — a handful of startups, some taking their cues from Silicon Valley, have been asking a different question: What if you could hack your brain?
Enter nootropics, sometimes called “smart drugs”, a niche but rising segment of the supplements industry that is extending its reach into beverage via shots and energy drink alternatives that promise consumers better focus, better memory, and improved overall mental function.
Buoyed by a global brain health supplement market that is expected to reach $11.6-billion by 2024, brands of this type see an opportunity to disrupt the larger functional and energy drink sets.
“Nootropics” is typically used as a catchall term for a large variety of different drugs, adaptogens, and synthetic compounds that deliver users some form of cognitive benefit.
Some, like tea-derived L-theanine, have been widely known and used in beverages for decades. But the promise of boosting brain function has helped inspire a growing subculture of consumers who experiment with different compounds and “stacks,” the name for the combinations of different nootropics that deliver specific effects and benefits when they interact.
On Reddit, the r/nootropics community currently has more than 156,000 subscribers, offering information and discussion of different nootropics and how they can be paired for optimal effect.
Charles Lankau, co-founder of Synapse, an early stage “natural cognitive boost” drink, first discovered nootropics through the online biohacking community as a high schooler.
According to Lankau, while trends and techniques within the biohacking community vary — covering everything from meditation and breathing exercises to cybernetic implants — the core concept is about “measuring” and tracking physical and mental changes in order to document how different drugs or exercises affect the individual.
“Throughout high school and college when I was preparing for exams, tests, papers, and assignments I wanted to get the most out of my brain and perform at my highest possible level and I found nootropics to be a great way to improve that performance,” Lankau told BevNET.
These early adopters are forming the initial consumer base for an emerging RTD nootropic beverage market. Synapse (left) launched earlier this year, while functional beverage company LifeAid has seen sales boom for its nootropic-infused FocusAid line.
According to LifeAid co-founder and president, Aaron Hinde, FocusAid is available in more than 10,000 stores nationwide, including Whole Foods, Sprouts, Vitamin Shoppe, H-E-B, and Safeway.
The line has become the company’s second top-selling SKU despite receiving little marketing support to date, although the company plans to put more of its budget toward the line in the near future.
“We know people are looking for increased focus, for that flow state or ‘being in the zone,’” Hinde told BevNET. “We’ve taken more of a natural approach, giving them nootropics for the brain function and a mild dose of natural caffeine, which is not going to burn you out with adrenal fatigue years down the line.
“I think we’re looking at what people are trying to achieve by drinking energy drinks and delivering it to them in a much more healthy way.”
FocusAid utilises a stack of nootropics which are largely popular with those in the subculture.
The product uses neurotransmitter GABA (naturally produced in the brain and regulates calmness, sleep, and alpha brainwaves), Alpha GPC (memory formation and learning), acetyl-L-carnitine (alertness), and rhodiola rosea (stress relief) in addition to more traditional energy and wellness drink ingredients like ginseng, B, C, and D vitamins, yerba mate, and caffeine (45 mg).
Hinde said the blend gives users a stronger but more consistent energy boost that’s suitable for staying on the ball at work without a crash.
“The ready-to-drink format makes the product so much more accessible and mainstream for consumers,” said LifeAID CEO, Orion Melehan.
“As we did with FitAid where we focused on niche channels and built it out to the mass market, that’s essentially what we’re doing with the pioneers of this nootropics trend — which we think is here to stay, we don’t think it’s a fad. We’re branching out into more mainstream consumers.”….