From hangover cure to military contract: Hoist targets expanded consumer base, distribution

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Image Credit: Hoist
Image Credit: Hoist

Related tags Sports drinks Sports nutrition hydration

As Cincinnati-based, hydration brand Hoist looks to expand its consumer base and move into more retail locations, it is building on a foundation established with the US military, Hoist Co-founder and VP Sales Ben Schmidt and Hoist Co-founder and President Kelly Heekin told FoodNavigator-USA.

Founded in 2009, Hoist touts​ an isotonic level of hydration through a balance of carbs and electrolytes that “matches your blood density, so when you drink, it instantly goes to your body without your body having to do any extra work – that’s why we call it IV-level hydration,​” Heekin explained. With sugar-heavy sports drinks, “your body actually has to send in stored water to help digest it before it gets up your system, and that can lead to a delay in hydration, which results in cramps,​” he added.

With a strong consumer base established with the US military and in sports, Hoist is ready to expand to new users and uses, Schmidt said, noting: “Our goal is that Hoist not always be referred to as a sports drink because there's life beyond sport and isotonic."

From the NFL to car trunks to the US military

The idea of Hoist​ came after the founders reconnected with a childhood friend who played in the National Football League, from whom they learned that many teams adding an electrolyte solution into their Gatorade coolers to promote athletic recovery, Schmidt explained. The mix also makes for a good hangover cure, which gave them the idea to launch a beverage brand.

The idea dawned on us to say, ‘hey, what if we took [this] to a beverage scientist with a simple instruction of can we make this taste good?​’”

After securing initial funds for production, Heekin started "selling Hoist out of the trunk of [his] car for the … first year​” before eventually getting a distributor. The goal was to target the nightlife of Cincinnati, pitching Hoist as a “hangover elixir,​” Schmidt said.

However, “what quickly became apparent was Saturday sales and Sunday sales were strong, and we kind of flatlined as the party revelers went about their … actual day-to-day job,​” Schmidt said. 

Innovating with military, expanding consumer offerings

Toe expand the brand's appeal and consumer base, Hoist targeted the military after Schmidt said he and Heekin “captured wind that the marine corp. were power consumers of oral electrolyte solutions.​”

After working for several years to have their product allocated to the “appropriated side of the US military" budget, Hoist secured a contract with the US military for "authorization for field feeding,​" meaning actively training troops would have access to Hoist products. The brand also was granted "authorization of operational rations,​" which meant if the US went to war, soldiers could choose Hoist from a menu of options, he added.

The “military validation really enabled [Hoist] to build a foundation,​” Schmidt said. But it didn’t simply provide a solid paycheck it also gave the brand an opportunity to innovate alongside the US military, which in turn identified solutions for more consumer needs, he added.

"It's almost two sides of the business. One, we have the military side, and we're very fortunate [that] we're able to innovate with them; we created powder, [and] we created a brand-new liquid pouch,​" Heekin said. "Now we're starting to sell that online and look at a potential ... retail play in the future.​"

Making room on the sport drink shelf

The company is currently fundraising to expand Hoist’s distribution into retail to expand its appeal to the everyday consumer looking for a fitness beverage, Heekin said.

When it comes to the broader sports drink market, Schmidt admitted that “innovation has not been at the forefront … [it has] been a 40-foot set of Coke and Pepsi offerings with Gatorade and Powerade.​” But more recently, other players like Bodyarmor have entered the market, providing an opportunity for Hoist and other brands to appear on the shelf.

Schmidt noted that the adjacent energy drink space's diversification and expansion show another way the sports drink category could evolve in the future. Just as the energy drink category began with a few titans, including Monster and Red Bull, it is similarly seeing competition from newer players like C4, Celsius, and Alani Nu, he added.

But as Hoist looks to make a retail push, the co-founders noted that they want to stick to Hoist’s formula and won’t be chasing trends, such as sugar-reduction.

"The one thing we've always stood behind is that our formula was built for purpose, and it's really the best hydration you can get,​" Heekin said. "If you're [going to] go out and work out really hard ... you need the right fluids to help continue doing it.​"

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