Start-up Som Sleep is using the pro-sports space as a ‘megaphone’ for its melatonin drink
Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger won game four of the National League Championship against the Milwaukee Brewers with a walk-off RBI single. They were tied 2-2 on their way to the World Series.
After that game, Bellinger told MLB Network “It’s going to be hard [to go to sleep after this]. I’ll take some Som Sleep and hopefully go to bed.”
A spokesperson from Som Sleep told us that the company did not offer Bellinger compensation in exchange for mentioning, nor is he affiliated with the company as a brand ambassador, representative, or endorser.
“We’re based in Los Angeles, so it was exciting for us to hear Cody Bellinger organically mention Som Sleep in his interview with the MLB Network after his game-winning hit,” said Brad Marks, chief marketing officer at Som Sleep, a line of canned beverages with a Supplement Facts panel that contain L-Theanine, GABA, melatonin, magnesium, and vitamin B6.
Though Bellinger isn’t an official endorser, targeting the sports crowd has been an important strategy for the less-than-a-year old company.
On its homepage, it lists an advisory board of individuals, some compensated, some not, with titles and roles like ‘Former NHL All-Star & NHL Analyst,’ ‘NBA Strength & Conditioning Coach,’ ‘NFL Sports Dietitian,’ and more.
“One of the main reasons we put our initial feelers out to pro-sports was that a number of people from Som came to the company having done previous work with that population, so they have some in roads there,” Rob Bent, co-founder and chief product officer at Som Sleep, told us.
Getting NSF Certified for Sport
While other categories like protein and pre-workout energy are slowly expanding beyond the confines of sports nutrition shoppers into the mainstream arena, the sleep aid category has always been a general one.
So going the opposite direction and narrowing it down to athletes is a point of differentiation for Som Sleep.
“Pro-athletes were one of our early test markets,” Bent said. “Those folks have very high-stress jobs, 24/7 lifestyle. So one of the things we looked at was ‘how do we get people to relax?’”
“We knew this was a population that needed good, easy-to-use effective products to solve their sleep issues, because if you’re making $10 million a year off of your body functioning properly, something to help you sleep better can be a really big boost to your career.
“And these are the type of people who, if the product isn’t working, they’re not going to lie to you, because it’s not in their interest to take something that’s bad for them,” he added.
Because of that, the company secured an NSF Certified for Sport seal early on, which is given to products proven not to contain any of the more than 270 banned substances kept by international testing firm NSF, based on lists from sports associations like NFL, MLB, and WADA.
One of Som Sleep’s major accounts is retailer (and sports nutrition specialist) GNC, which sells the products in 800 of its stores. Bent described Som Sleep’s retail footprint as “expanding very rapidly.”
“Our first point of entry are primarily grocery, natural channel, independents, and we also have some interest in the familiar players like c-stores, drug, and mass—but we’re not in these yet.”
Targeting pro-athletes ‘as a megaphone’
Bent added that aligning Som Sleep with celebrated athletes also helps bring attention to the product.
“The mission of Som is to democratize sleep. To get everyone, not just pro-athletes. We want to share great sleep with many consumers, it’s a problem for all ages, all demographics,” he said
“We’re using the pro-sports niche to reach out as a megaphone to the rest of the country. We’re showing them that sleep issues are not something to be embarrassed about. It’s not something that you need to face by yourself, that you need to feel like you’re alone with these problems. One of the things we want to is really help people understand that this is an issue that so many people are facing.”
For now, Som Sleep’s product portfolio consists of two products: A regular and a sugar-free version. The main active ingredient in both is melatonin.
“There’s already commercial support behind all of the ingredients we put into our products,” Bent explained. He has worked in food technology and product development for six years. Prior to Som Sleep, he was a business development manager for beverages at Brooklyn-based ingredient company Virginia Dare Extract Co.
“We’re on the lookout always for new and better sleep ingredients, but we didn’t really see in the sleep space a real problem with ingredients,” he added.
“You might notice that we don’t use things like Valerian root or lemon balm, those herbal preparations. What we did was really look at struggles people have with trying to sleep. We have a lot of people having their minds racing at night… so we looked at how we can make people relax and free their mind up, so we looked at L-Theanine and GABA.”
OTC beats herbal in the sleep space
While in many packaged good categories, from snacks to cough syrup to hand soap, consumers increasingly look for natural-sounding, plant-based alternatives, Som Sleep isn’t hurting itself by staying away from an herbal positioning or highlighting herbal ingredients.
For sleep aid, pharmaceutical products remain the preference of many shoppers in the category, according to data from market research firm Euromonitor International.
“Although natural sleep aids are growing in popularity, consumers overwhelmingly prefer sleep aids with a pharmaceutical component, as they view these products as more efficacious than natural remedies,” according to the latest edition of the report.
The research firm’s estimates for this year’s over-the-counter (or OTC) sleep aid, including melatonin, is $846 million. For what the firm calls herbal or traditional sleep aids, its $51 million. This includes all products containing valerian root, hops, or passionflower.
Long dominated by pills bearing a Drug or Supplements Facts panel, Som’s founders thought that a functional beverage format is the best way to be a bridge between OTC and herbal.
“A beverage is a really accessible and flexible platform that we could use to present something that was not only efficacious to people, but also fit for their lifestyle,” Brent said.
“In addition to branding, packaging, and distribution strategy, the goal is to make something very easy. It’s not a powder you have to mix up, it’s not another pill you have to choke down—it’s a drink, in familiar places, where people can easily build it into their lives.”
Speaking of pro athletes...
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