Koios’ flagship product is a canned drink with a Supplements Facts panel that touts a formula of ingredients with some scientific evidence linking them to cognitive function, such as vitamins B6 and B12, as well as a proprietary blend with coconut-derived medium chain triglycerides, L-theanine, and Lion’s Mane.
This month, it just landed a bricks-and-mortar distribution deal with supplement retailer GNC. Slated for sale in around 2,700 GNC stores nationwide, the company characterized it as the largest purchase order in the company’s history.
Sports and supplement retailers and distributors were ‘early adopters’ of Koios Beverage Corp, but Chris Miller, the company’s founder and CEO, has his eyes set on more mainstream retailers as well.
“We work with KeHE, one of the largest natural food distributors in the country,” he told NutraIngredients-USA. He is anticipating that by the end of 2019, they will have 10,000 bricks-and-mortar retailers carrying their product.
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Miller’s interest in the nootropic space came from his personal experience dealing with what he calls minor ADHD and living on the spectrum of autism. “Focus has always been something a little bit tough for me,” he said. “I was a bright kid, but focusing was tough. I never really felt like I fit in.”
As an adult, he was prescribed Adderall, but Miller felt the adverse side effects often associated with the drug. “Those drugs started to really ruin my life,” he said.
He gravitated towards traditional botanical and supplement ingredients, researching on his own online. Once he found a blend of botanicals and vitamins that he felt improved his cognition, he thought it was something he could market to more people.
He launched the first Koios product, a powder. “Once we put this supplement out, we realized that people were looking for alternatives to caffeine to get more of their brain,” he said.
Nootropic products, an umbrella term used to describe both drugs and supplements that could give users a brain boost, have been trending upward in the last five years, based on US searches on Google. While new product development for capsules and powders in the brain health and nootropic space has continued at its usual pace, there has been an increase of launches of ready-to-drink and even ready-to-eat products in this category.
So what’s driving interest toward brain health supplements? Miller has a hypothesis: “The reality is we live in a very industrial society. A lot of people worked in factories, a lot of people worked in farms. We shifted to the technology age, where we’re not using manual labor as often—we’re using our brain. We’re pushing the capacity of our brain to the max,” he said.
“Brain function is our world’s new currency,” he added. Investors are interested in this idea—Koios went public in the spring of 2018. “We wanted access to capital markets, we started growing pretty quickly and realized that we would need to raise more capital.”
Traditionally, the target audience for nootropics has been male, especially gamers and professionals in the tech and finance industries.
Koios aligned itself with the eSports community early on. “As the evolution of eSports took off—some of these kids are professional eSports players now, they get college scholarships and million dollar contracts. There’s nobody in the world that uses their brain more than gamers,” he said.
Unfortunately for Koios, bigger companies like Red Bull and Monster have stepped in, stealing thunder from smaller brands and grabbing a bigger slice of the gaming community.
Consumer needs of the competitive online gaming community have evolved beyond chugging caffeine-laden energy drinks and towards more sophisticated functional formulations of nootropics—dietary supplements that claim to improve mental acuity, vision, and focus.
But the conversation around brain health is becoming more mainstream. Data from Barnes & Noble this year revealed that, in the self-help category, books on mental health beat books on dieting in terms of sales. Koios has put this into account for its marketing and branding strategy.
“Our beverage is very feminine in a sense. It’s very different from what’s on the market for energy and mental function,” he said, alluding to the white cans and elegant typeset.
“The demographic we’re chasing includes women who are 20 to 34, who are into holistic health and yoga. Our drinks do really well with women in that age group as well, so we market heavily to them.”
Koios is now placing a focus on its identity as a beverage company. Up next is a line called Fit Soda due to launch next month, which Miller described as an organic soda that “tastes like nostalgia.”
“We want to give people a reason to want to drink soda again,” he said. “We’ll put BCAA in one of them, they’re all going to be organic and sugar-free.” This product will have a Nutrition Facts panel, he added.
He’s also developing a CBD drink line and is optimistic that the FDA will overturn any regulatory barriers that will allow companies to market food and beverage products containing CBD. “There’s going to be too much research and too much demand for the product itself,” he said.
“I do think a lot of people have jumped into it too quickly…We don’t know how much CBD or how much hemp is a good dosage yet. We’ve been really taking our time in this space in terms of product development,” he added.
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