New Years Drinks

Hangover Article


How and why the hangover prevention category is succeeding at retail


By Carl Sperber


In 1957 the idea of wildly gyrating with a plastic ring around one’s hips was considered strange, perhaps seditious. But in 1958, Wham-O sold 100 million Hula Hoops and a great American fad was born. The fledgling hangover prevention category has also seen meteoric growth. With a strong foothold in mainstream retail stores, this niche category seems poised for greatness. How big has this new category become? What is its potential? Will it continue to grow or go the way of the Hula Hoop?


Four years ago the scope of hangover treatment was limited to OTC pain relievers and bizarre folk remedies. Today there are 32 products on the market that claim to prevent or treat the dreaded hangover. Many of the biggest names in chain drug, mass and grocery include at least one hangover prevention product in their planograms.


Retail chains that carry a hangover prevention product.

2002                                        2003                                        2004

GNC                                        GNC                                        GNC

Kroger                                     Kroger                                     Kroger

                                                Rite Aid                                    Rite Aid

                                                Walgreens                                Walgreens

                                                Albertsons                                Albertsons

                                                Sav-On Drug                            Sav-On Drug

                                                Osco Drug                               Osco Drug

                                                Jewel-Osco                              Jewel-Osco

                                                Acme Market                           Acme Market

                                                Meijer                                      Meijer

                                                Brooks Pharmacy                     Brooks Pharmacy












                                                                                                Advance Auto


A bevy of smaller chains and independent convenience, drug, health and liquor stores have also jumped on the hangover prevention bandwagon. Most of the 32 hangover products on the market are sold exclusively online. For the two or three with retail shelf space, the sales trend is up – way up. For the 52 weeks ending November 28, 2004 retail sales for the leading hangover product was $5.4 million, a Hula-Hoop-esque 1,924 percent increase over 2003 (Source: Information Resources, Inc).


These numbers don’t begin to touch the category’s potential. The typical American consumes 11 drinks per week. According to a survey by Bayer, it takes an average of just 3.2 drinks to cause hangover symptoms. For 10 percent of people it takes just one or two. Women are far more likely to experience a hangover after moderate drinking than men. Clearly the need for hangover prevention products exists. It’s up to the manufacturers and retailers to continue creating awareness and generating demand.


How did this niche category gain a foothold on retail shelves? Several factors were involved:


Timing is Everything: When a generation that believes in magic bullets meets a pill that helps prevent hangovers, it’s love at first sight. Unlike their grandparents, today’s 20 and 30-somethings don’t embrace the idea that pain builds good character. Rather, pain should be avoided, life should be pleasurable, and it’s all possible through…


Modern Technology: Astronauts have walked on the moon. Scientists have cloned sheep. Explorers found the Titanic. Why not pills to help prevent hangovers? With so many feats of technology over the past 50 years, it seems like a simple thing. Despite this perception, products that claim to help prevent hangovers are met with skepticism, and rightfully so. Only a handful of these products have had their claims tested and proven through…


Clinical Trials: Recent clinical data suggests there’s more to some hangover prevention products than their critics give them credit for. A published study on prickly pear extract, used in one hangover product, showed promising results. Another study performed on the popular Chaser® brand ( ) showed strong results as well. In this randomized, double blind, placebo controlled clinical trial, Chaser was tested against 17 hangover symptoms. The results of the study showed statistically significant improvement over placebo in all 17 categories including headache, nausea and fatigue. Even with proven efficacy, though, most consumers want to be sure that…


The Products are Safe: Most hangover prevention aids are safe alternatives to OTC pain relievers like aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen, which carry serious alcohol warnings. Acetaminophen has been linked to liver damage, especially when combined with alcohol. Aspirin can cause stomach irritation or stomach bleeding. Most hangover prevention products are mineral or vitamin supplements. Chaser, for example, is a combination of activated calcium carbonate, an ingredient found in most antacids, and activated charcoal, which is used as a detoxifier in many hospital emergency rooms.


So there’s a better mousetrap. That means nothing unless…


The Retailers Like It: And there’s a lot for retailers to like about hangover prevention products – mainly repeat sales. Unlike the Hula Hoop, hangover products are items consumers will come back over and over again. Even compared to cold medicines, the repeat sales potential of hangover products shines. While people may get two or three colds per year, the social drinker is setting him/herself up for a hangover every weekend, not to mention holidays, vacations, business trips, weddings, tailgate parties and a slew of other events.


For the handful of safe, effective, proven products all that was left to do was…


Market, Market, Market: It’s no coincidence that the category leaders are also the most aggressive marketers. But developing marketing messages for products that claim to help prevent hangovers can be tricky. Because of the popular misconception that these products promote excessive drinking, category leaders have taken great pains to position their products on the side of caution, moderation and responsibility. For instance, the makers of Chaser have a policy never to market directly to college students and minors. This policy extends to interviews with reporters from college newspapers and buying advertising on televised college sports events. Manufacturers have also taken it upon themselves to include warnings about excessive alcohol consumption and drunk driving on ads, packaging and websites.


These measures have gone far to position hangover prevention supplements as responsible products. But much evidence exists that the act of preventing hangovers is itself a worthwhile pursuit.


According to a report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, productivity losses attributed to alcohol were estimated at $119 billion for 1995. While hangovers may account for just a part of that amount, the report found “a positive relationship between the frequency of being ‘hungover’ at work and the frequency of feeling sick at work, sleeping on the job, and having problems with job tasks or co-workers.”


A 2000 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine states, “In the United Sates, related absenteeism and poor job performance cost $148 billion annually (average annual cost per working adult, $2,000). Although hangover is associated with alcoholism, most of its cost is incurred by the light-to-moderate drinker. Patients with hangover may pose substantial risk to themselves and others despite having a normal blood alcohol level. Hangover may also be an independent risk factor for cardiac death.”


The same study goes on to state, “Hangover has never been shown to effectively deter alcohol consumption, and no evidence shows that alleviation of hangover symptoms would result in further consumption. In contrast, the discomfort of hangover symptoms may prompt further alcohol intake (for example, the ‘eye opener’). One study of 178 persons found that ‘those who experience greater hangover may choose to drink more alcohol in order to relieve these adverse effects.’”


A study of military pilots completing a simulated flying task revealed significant decrements in some performance measures (particularly among older pilots) eight to 14 hours after they consumed enough alcohol to be considered legally drunk.


Despite the initial success realized by some marketers of hangover prevention products, the category faces serious challenges. One of these challenges comes from well intentioned but misinformed critics that cling to the belief that preventing hangovers encourages excessive alcohol consumption. Another challenge comes from skeptics for whom the claim that a pill can help prevent a hangover falls into the realm of too-good-to-be-true.


The industry’s answer to these critics and skeptics should be effective, responsible marketing and research to support product claims. By challenging myths and misconceptions about hangovers, marketers of hangover products will silence their critics. By presenting positive results from legitimate clinical studies marketers will encourage skeptics to try their products. Companies that participate in these practices will strengthen their positions and the overall category. Companies that don’t will drop out, and as Darwin would have said, strengthen the gene pool.


Will the hangover prevention category go the way of the Hula Hoop? Not likely. Category leaders are committed to effective responsible marketing and continued research. New products and new innovations continue to enter the arena. Retailers love the repeat sales. Plus, unlike a true fad that disappears after the novelty has worn off, consumption of alcohol has had 12,000 years of staying power. Unless hangovers become fashionable, the hangover prevention category is here to stay.




Tweet This Page
Daily Drink Recipes Delivered to twitter RSS Feed