As a marathon runner, founder and CEO of CHERRiSH Dan Haggart discovered fellow runners were drinking cherry juice as a post-workout drink because of its purported anti-inflammatory benefits and low glycemic index, which he claims also makes the drink a fit for diabetics.
After developing a blend of 100% cherry juice that includes the skin and pulp, the company started targeting professional sports teams as well as NCAA college athletics, and more recently moved into athletic clubs such as Gold’s Gym.
“We went after the low-hanging fruit – the athletic channel,” Haggart told FoodNavigator-USA.
At the time, the product was in an eight-ounce can, but in order to get its foot into brick-and-mortar retail and compete in the premium refrigerated juice section the company made the switch to a 12-ounce PET bottle.
“We’re pushing hard into major retail,” Haggart said. “We’re trying to move away from being an athletic drink to being a wellness drink.”
In addition to its 200 c-store distributor deal with Core-Mark in Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, CHERRiSH recently closed a Kroger account of Fry's Food and Drug and is also working through DSDs in New York City.
In addition to elite athletes and a generally active health-focused audience, Haggart added that mothers of young children have been an unexpected consumer of the brand because of its no-added sugar content and a smoother tart taste profile.
To better capture this audience, the brand will be expanding into other packaging formats including a 32-ounce multi-serve bottle and 12-packs of the 12-ounce bottle with the goal of eventually entering club stores.
The type of cherry matters
Unlike some other 100% juice products, CHERRiSH is not cut with less expensive fruit juices such as apple or grape. Each 12-ounce drink uses a blend of whole cherries including the Montmorency cherry, mostly grown in Northern Michigan, and the Bing cherry found in the Pacific Northwest.
The Montmorency cherry is extremely tart in taste and is not a cherry found in the produce section – it usually goes into pies or as an ingredient for cereals and baked goods, according to Haggart.
In addition, due to having to survive the harsh weather conditions of Michigan winters, the cherry has developed a higher antioxidant content of anthocyanins, flavonoids, and melatonin – all of which play a role in muscle recovery.
However, in order to make the RTD beverage more palatable, the company added the more commonly-consumed Bing cherry, which has a sweeter, lighter profile.
In doing so, the antioxidant levels – measured on the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scale – of the drink increased because the compounds inside the tart Montmorency cherry were “feeding” off of the antioxidants compounds of the Bing cherry, Haggart explained.
Cherry antioxidant role in muscle recovery
The anti-inflammatory and muscle recovery effects of tart cherry juice could serve as a suitable alternative to some anti-inflammatory drugs commonly used by athletes, some research suggests.
In one pilot study from the Oregon Health & Science University, sixty healthy adults aged 18-50 years, who drank 10.5 ounces cherry juice (CHERRiSH 100% Montmorency cherry juice) twice a day for seven days prior to and on the day of a long-distance relay had significantly less muscle pain following the race than those who drank another fruit juice beverage.
“For most runners, post-race treatment consists of RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) and traditional NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs),” said Kerry Kuehl, M.D., a sports medicine physician and principal study investigator.
“But NSAIDS can have adverse effects – negative effects you may be able to avoid by using a natural, whole food alternative, like cherry juice, to reduce muscle inflammation before exercise.”
Despite CHERRiSH’s move into traditional retail to capture the general health conscious consumer, the brands will still remain strongly connected to the professional and elite athlete audience.
The company is working on a developing a 2.5-ounce pure concentrate shot that would go directly into a water bottle for the athletic channel, Haggart added.