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Hoping to tap into the growing market for effective yet natural functionality, Hain Celestial recently announced the launch of its Sleepytime Snooz line of herbal supplement shots, with the new sleep aids complementing a line of energy shots introduced in late 2011. An extension of the company’s Sleepytime herbal tea brand, the line also represents a new direction for the relaxation drink category, which saw a surge in interest in 2009 and 2010, yet failed to connect with consumers on a large scale. Particularly in the US, previous offerings often sought to position themselves as party beverages designed to create a more relaxed “vibe” in nightclubs. Sleepytime shots, by contrast, are far more explicitly promoted as a sleep aid, for consumers seeking a more natural option than pharmaceuticals. Targeting a specific consumer niche at a specific time of day, “sleep shots” are a key example of the ongoing search not simply for new product categories, but new occasions, giving consumers further reasons to partake throughout the day.
One of the most-talked about trends of 2010 and 2011 was the emergence of relaxation beverages in the US, with a slew of new products marking the arrival of a category which first appeared in Japan in the mid-2000s. Combining melatonin with amino acids such as GABA or L-theanine, the new drinks were widely promoted as a calming counterpoint to energy drinks, yet with similar use occasions. Marketing tended to be polarising, with products such as Innovative Beverage Group’s Drank drawing explicit parallels with the recreational (and illegal) use of cough medications containing the narcotic codeine, with “Purple Drank” a common slang term for the latter product, commonly sold as a purple syrup. Rather than pure sleep aids, the new crop of relaxation beverages were implied to offer something between calmness and an altered state of consciousness.
This proved a tough sell with US consumers, and interest appears to have cooled over the last year. The disconnect between the stated benefits (relaxation) and the active ingredients in many of the products (nearly all of which are promoted as sleep aids elsewhere) has proven difficult to overcome, and Hain Celestial’s foray into the category likely represents the next phase of development, with the sleep-promoting aspects taking centre stage. Far from a party beverage, Sleepytime Snooz shots are explicitly meant to be taken before bedtime, with the shot format reinforcing the concept of a product for a specific task and occasion. Indeed, marketing materials specifically advise against consumption at other times, owing to the potential for drowsiness. It is this tight integration of purpose and occasion that sets the new shots apart—the specific purpose of consumption is far more typical of pharmaceuticals than beverages, while the tying of consumption to a specific new occasion is a topic of great interest to many beverage players. Before bedtime consumption, in particular, is relatively underexplored in the US, and could provide real opportunity going forward.
The market for sleep aids is poised for continued growth among over-caffeinated, overworked developed market consumers, with the prescription sleep aid Ambien a US$1 billion brand in the US alone. Likewise, the US$1.7 billion global market for over-the-counter sleep aids is expected to enjoy steady expansion over the next five years. For drinks manufacturers, this represents uncharted territory, yet the phenomenal success of both energy drinks and sports drinks is an obvious indication of consumer demand for products offering specific functional properties. As noted, while still a tiny niche in sales terms, before bedtime is also an intriguing occasion given its relative underdevelopment. Particularly for herbal products companies like Hain Celestial, this new era of ever more-specific functionality could represent a powerful opportunity, given long experience in marketing a wide array of products and formulations for specific ailments and occasions. That said, the increasing specificity of product claims and additives is likely to invite further scrutiny from regulatory bodies, particularly as beverage manufacturers, supplement manufacturers, and pharmaceutical players find themselves in closer competition.