Chewable energy tab maker hires energy brand veteran in bid to disrupt category

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Voke Tabs says its product has been produced specifically to help combat the afternoon doldrums. ©Getty Images - fizkes
Voke Tabs says its product has been produced specifically to help combat the afternoon doldrums. ©Getty Images - fizkes

Related tags caffeine alternative Caffeine content Energy

Voke Tab Inc. has hired an executive who helped reshape the energy category once already in a bid to carve out market share for its chewable tablet delivery mode.

The company, founded by former competitive skier Kalen Caughey, has hired Scott Henderson, former president and COO of 5 Hour Energy, as its new CEO.  It would appear to be a bid to see if Henderson can again harness the lightning he caught in a bottle with his former employer.

Building on prior experience

The shot delivery form for energy beverages didn’t really exist before 5 Hour Energy hit the scene.   And Henderson said he was there for almost the whole ride.

“When I started there the brand was doing about $3 million in sales annually, and I got it up to about $500 million,”​ Henderson said.

After parting ways with 5 Hour Henderson said he was enjoying his free time when Caughey approached him.  It was among many opportunities he’d been offered, Henderson said, but something about the unique value proposition of Voke Tab caught his eye.

Like many offerings in the natural products and dietary supplement space, Voke Tab started as a way to meet a personal need.  Before a serious knee injury ended the dream, Caughey was trying to break into the elite ranks of mogul skiing in Montana and Colorado, and was looking for something to help get him through a training day.

“This is a project I have been working on for quite some time. I was a competitive skier and I was drinking way too much coffee.  I started to make these formulas for myself and my friends as something you could take along on the mountain,”​ he said.

Energy without the crash

Caughey turned to his father, a biochemist, for advice on which natural ingredients could provide a sustained boost without the crash so many caffeine users experience. After combing through the literature, they settled upon a formulation that featured guarana seed, acerola, beet root powder and natural caffeine from green tea.

The ingredients were delivered via a chewable tab to offer both convenience and alternative to other products in the market.  Caughey said he wanted to avoid the artificial ingredients that lace many energy beverages.

The product—branded as Voke Superfood and packaged in resealable packets of two tablets each—is positioned as something that both athletes and busy professionals can take along in their pocket to get them a boost at critical times in the day. And the combination of ingredients provides both a smooth energy boost and one that won’t keep consumers up at night if they use the product to ward off the afternoon doldrums, Caughey said.

Caughey also said the research he and his father unearthed points toward cognitive and problem solving benefits for the ingredient combination.  The claims on the front of the package state “All day support for clear thinking, mental focus, good mood.”

Working on the taste

A chewable tablet is something that needs to taste good to really work for consumers. Henderson said that among the things that 5 Hour Energy pioneered was the notion that a shot, small in volume and taken quickly, could succeed even if it tasted bad.  But he said even with that brand’s initial success, he realized that poor taste would eventually limit the product’s potential.

“When I got there I would say the taste of 5 Hour was like bad Robitussin, and that’s probably not being fair to Robitussin,”​ Henderson said.  The taste of that product improved markedly over its lifetime, he said.

 Caughey said taste was something he had to work hard on with his product, too, and is something he is still improving upon.  Henderson said dealing with the inherent bitterness of caffeine is something all energy products face. He likened the taste of Voke Superfood as more akin to a Sweet Tart than the sweet fruit flavors of some of the gummy supplements on the market, and said the latest formula improves on the taste even more.

Where’s the market?

Henderson said positioning the product in checkout displays at mass market retailers could be a big opportunity for the brand.  Major retailers have reported steadily falling sales in that part of the store, he said, and are always on the lookout for products that can reverse that trend.

“We are already in some smaller convenience store chains. We think there’s a real play into convenience stores because that’s where many consumers sample products,” ​he said.

In the end, Caughey said he believes there are a huge number of potential consumers for the product, wherever it is sold.

“Over the years we’ve done a lot of market research and talked to our own customers,” he said. “We’ve found that 54% of Americans drink coffee daily.  That’s like 175 million people.  But 82% of coffee drinkers drink coffee in the morning;  only 24% continue to drink coffee in the afternoon. We don’t view ourselves as a competitor to coffee.  We view ourselves as a very convenient way to address this common afternoon mental crash,”​ he said.

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