Hangover drink may be just the solution

Cure: Cera Products hopes its latest creation can stir up profits while it settles upset stomachs.

Small business

January 07, 2002|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

For years, Cera Products' electrolyte drink has been found most readily in hospitals, nursing homes and emergency supply travel kits, where it is an aid for battling severe dehydration.

But with the new year, Cera Products is turning to a new market: partygoing revelers.

The Jessup-based company shipped its first orders of ready-to-drink hangover solution to area liquor stores two weeks ago. Last week, it signed an agreement with Atlantic Beverage Co. to distribute the hangover drink and its sports drink in retail stores.

Charlene B. Riikonen, the company's founder and chief executive officer, said she is hoping the ready-to-drink formula, along with a new image and increased markets for the company's products, will help her 9-year-old company increase profits.

She might be on the right track. According to Gary Hemphill, senior vice president of the Beverage Marketing Corp., a New York-based research and consulting group, beverage consumers are looking for more choices.

"It definitely helps to segment the product line to different consumer demographics," he said. "The consumer that wants to cure their hangover on that particular day is probably a different consumer than someone who is going through a two-hour workout at the gym."

Privately owned Cera Products LLC is the maker of several electrolyte drinks, similar to Gatorade, that help replenish body fluids. The company's drinks are rice-based, which helps them deliver electrolytes more quickly, Riikonen said.

The company's core products are CeraLyte, a potion geared toward patients suffering from dehydration and gastrointestinal disorders, and CeraVacx, a drink taken with oral vaccines. In 1999, the company developed CeraSport, a sports drink that could compete with Gatorade. Last year, the hangover drink Hydra-1 was born. The formula is similar to Cera- Sport, but contains a buffer to help settle the stomach.

With a full range of products - for the elderly and severely ill, the young and athletic, and the partygoer - in powdered and ready-to-drink forms, the company is ready to increase its revenue. During its first seven years, the company made about $1 million. Last year, revenue was slightly less than $1 million. This year's target is $1.5 million, Riikonen said.

"We have to concentrate on sales," said Riikonen. "We'll concentrate on this region, so that we can saturate it."

A shortage of marketing money means CeraSport would have a hard time competing nationally with the likes of Gatorade. Gatorade controls 80 percent of the nearly $2 billion-a-year U.S. sports drink market, Hemphill said.

But Cera Products' small size, along with its claim to higher performance, might offer an advantage among more educated consumers, he said.

"There is an athletic community that is very sophisticated about the products they consume," Hemphill said. "If they're marketing through fitness centers and health food stores, that's really the key consumer for them."

Cera Products is doing just that. CeraSport is in local sports stores such as Princeton Sports and Travel in Columbia and Baltimore, Mount Washington Bike Shop in Baltimore and David's Natural Market in Columbia. Hydra-1 is available in local liquor stores, including Jayson's Wine and Spirits in Ellicott City.

Riikonen said her next move is to find a corporate partner to license the rights to CeraSport and Hydra-1 while the company concentrates its efforts on the health community.

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