Picture this: An all-natural performance drink or supplement that is scientifically backed to enhance cognition, increase alertness, reduce brain fog and even improve reaction time and physical performance.
It’s a too-good-to-be-true product that New Zealand mates Angus Brown and Zac Robinson are pitching with Arepa, their so-called “brain drink” start-up that promises to deliver the zip of energy drinks and coffee but without the caffeine.
Brown got a job as a sales manager for energy drink V right out of uni, but realised he was “selling caffeine and sugar to the masses”. After losing a friend to suicide and two grandparents to brain-related illnesses, the food technology strategist, who worked for New Zealand’s version of the CSIRO, teamed up with designer Robinson to create a healthier alternative.
So if you’ve never heard of Arepa before, it’s because Brown and Robinson spent several years buried in research and development.
“We were learning a lot around technology and food tech, what you should do to commercialise something, what you shouldn’t do, how to protect your idea with intellectual property,” Brown said.
“We were in stealth mode for probably five years before the product even reached the market.”
By the time they launched, the pair wanted to ensure they could back up their claims of improved brain performance with the science to get a leg up on their energy drink competitors.
“We took the slow route of, ‘Let’s make sure it clinically works’,” Robinson said.
After seven years of slow organic growth and investment in science, the Arepa team is finally prepared to scale up. Brown and Robinson have begun talks with venture capital funds and high-profile tech investors to rustle up anywhere between $20 million and $100 million in Series A-funding, which they hope will be closed by this time next year. They will use the capital to launch into the United States, and aim to be in 10 markets in the next 10 years.
Since starting operations a decade ago, the co-founders have only raised $5 million.
Does it actually work?
Arepa has been co-developed with Melbourne neuroscientist Professor Andrew Scholey, who is also Arepa’s chief scientific officer. The beverage contains three key ingredients, the hero of which is anthocyanins, a group of antioxidants found in the blue, red or purple pigments that give berries their superfood status.
The team has based the product on a specific variety of blackcurrant containing more anthocyanins than any other berry, which Arepa has now trademarked as the Neuroberry, which contain polyphenols. (The trademark doesn’t necessarily stop other businesses from using that kind of blackcurrant, which requires specific growing conditions.)
The other two crucial ingredients are L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea that reduces stress without causing drowsiness, and enzogenol, a pine bark extract that improves blood flow.
According to Brown and Robinson, the overall effect of the drink is to increase oxygen to your brain, which in turn improves productivity and, if consumed regularly, can potentially slow neurological decline.
A recent study conducted by the University of Auckland and published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology in July showed Arepa’s powder supplement counteracted the effects of pollution among competitive-level cyclists who took it for seven days, and on average shaved 20 seconds off the riders’ four-kilometre sprints.
Arepa has actively pitched itself to sportspeople and already amassed a high-profile customer list including the Wallabies, All Blacks and Hurricanes rugby teams, as well as NBA star Steven Adams, who is also a backer in the business.
Meanwhile, Hollywood executives (like Taika Waititi) and corporate figures (like Chris Quin, the chief executive of Foodstuffs – Woolworths’ competitor in New Zealand – and ASB Bank chair Dame Therese Walsh) have taken to it, too.
“They notice it when they don’t have it. We get emails from their assistants,” Brown said.
More generally, the pair say customer conversion rates are strong. Arepa drinkers include breastfeeding mothers, corporate types wanting to avoid caffeine in the afternoon, and truck drivers.
Customer demographics are evenly split across all age groups, albeit bulkier in the 35-45 age group, and slightly higher among females than males.
Worldwide ambitions for an Auckland start-up
As a relatively obscure business founded in Auckland, Brown and Robinson believe their biggest challenge has been building something from the ground up.
“Our hardest job is that we’re creating new category at the same time. This doesn’t exist,” Brown said.
Although Arepa – named after the Te Reo Māori translation of ‘alpha’ and a nod to the alpha waves that help you enter flow state – started out as a natural alternative to energy drinks, Brown and Robinson’s new goal is to slow the onset of neurological decline in all corners of the world.
“When we started, we were like let’s be the next Red Bull out of Australasia. But now, we think that we can impact brain health on a global basis,” Robinson said.
Arepa has also been handed a $700,000 grant by Dementia Research Foundation Australia to undertake further studies on the drink’s efficacy.
Brown and Robinson’s foremost challenge, however will be to let Australian shoppers know the product is on shelves. Arepa is already in most Coles and Woolworths along the eastern seaboard and will be stocked in Harris Farms, IGA, BP and Ampol. The duo expect to be in 2000 stores across Australia by September.
“Our awareness in Australia is really low. We track it, and we’re only at about 3 or 4 per cent. So we know we basically need to make more people aware we exist,” Brown said.
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Source: Thanks smh.com