Entrepreneurs hope new hangover shot will jumpstart category in US to match its popularity in Asia
The product, called The Plug, was developed by brothers Ray Kim and Justin Kim. Born to Korean-American parents in Southern California, the brothers, who are young professionals, made at least yearly trips to South Korea. There, as part of their work hard-play hard lifestyle, they were exposed to the plethora of hangover cures on the market there.
Hangover cures ubiquitous in South Korea
“We visited often in South Korea, and Justin interned there for a year after college,” said Ray Kim. “After a night of going out we’d go to a convenience store and pick up one of these hangover cures. They’ve been around in the market in South Korea since 1992 and every store now has six to eight brands on the shelf.”
“They are so common that you’re thought of as weird if you had never tried one. It’s like having had a Red Bull here,” he added.
That gave the brothers the spark for a new business idea, said Ray Kim, who recently has been working in investment banking. They grew up in what he called an ‘entrepreneurial household’ and they would often pitch new ideas to their father.
“We’d pitch him new ideas and 99% of the time he’d find the fatal flaw. This time he didn’t,” Ray Kim said.
Justin Kim, who has worked as a technical headhunter, said in their market research they found that the hangover cures on the market in the US were generally either water with nutrients and flavoring added, or contained several of a fairly small suite of herbal ingredients, many of which are connected to liver support.
In coming up with a new, more comprehensive formula, Justin Kim said the brothers had two overarching goals:
“No. 1, does it work? And No. 2, does it taste good?” he said.
Justin Kim said the products that were on the market in South Korea were not formulated in such a way as to be palatable to North Americans. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the formulas don’t pay much attention to taste and mouthfeel, he said.
“Not everyone is used to taking TCM products,” Justin Kim said. “It took us about eight months going back and forth with our manufacturer with different formulas to come up with a neutral, tropical taste that we think will work with US consumers.”
As far as how the product works, the brothers relied on traditional use information to choose their suite of ingredients. The product has 13 different herbal ingredients. Chief among them is an ingredient derived from the Oriental Raisin Tree (Hovenia dulcis). The ingredient is also know as DHM, short for dihydromyricetin, a flavonoid found in the tree and in some other botanicals.
Research on ingredient
The molecule has generated significant recent research interest, with 36 studies with the name in the title listed on the PubMed database for this year alone. Many of those studies look at some aspect of the molecule’s antioxidant, inflammation fighting properties, but one recent study conducted by Chinese researchers and published in the journal Toxicology Letters does look at the ingredient’s effects on alleviating ethanol-induced hepatic injury.
The 13 herbal ingredients are grouped in ‘Restore,’ ‘Recover’ and ‘Recharge’ segments and include botanicals such as Pueraria lobata (Kudzu), Artemisia, Licorice, Honeysuckle and Schisandra.
“This proprietary formula took about 3 and a half years of research and development and we have a proprietary distillation process for the ingredients,” Ray Kim said. He added that the company has done an in house randomized human clinical trial that he said validates the formula’s ability to lower blood alcohol levels, speed alcohol breakdown in the liver and suppress the headaches associated with hangovers.
The product, which comes in a shot format, was launched via what the brothers characterized as a highly successful Indiegogo campaign in September that hit its goal within 24 hours. The product is now for sale on the brand’s website, going for $29 for a six pack, or a bit less than $5 a serving. Slightly lower price points can be achieved by buying bigger lots or by signing up for a subscription service.