In Terms of Distribution This Joint Juice Is Jumpin’

As “Joe the Plumber” overflows with opinions on the state of our nation, an army of average Joes crawls around unclogging pipes, moving furniture and laying carpet. Those who do the heavy lifting of construction work and other blue-collar jobs seek some relief from the aches and pains gained during a day’s labor. Joint Juice wants to be their Gatorade.

The doctor-created beverage contains a day’s supply of glucosamine, a naturally occurring substance that hydrates joints and helps build the cartilage needed to cushion them. While Joint Juice’s claims are not evaluated by the FDA, research indicates that taking the 1,500 mg in a daily serving can improve overall joint function and mobility.

It was during a Costco road show that Joint Juice CEO Jack Robertson got a chance to meet some of these jacks-of-all-trades who toil on our toilets and care for our cars. At these sampling events, emerging brands have a chance to introduce products to customers at a club store, and for Robertson, this was where the vision of his true market materialized.

Joint Juice had been envisioned as sort of an antidote for arthritics and the aged. These folks came to the Costco table, but so did America’s blue collar brigade—in droves.

“That’s where we got the takeaway that [this product appealed to] 30-year-old plumbers and 40-year-old bricklayers,” said Robertson, a consumer packaged goods vet who had stints at Procter & Gamble and Clorox before consulting for Joint Juice. He eventually joined the company in 2002. “This wasn’t my grandmother, this was a much broader market that was experiencing pain.”

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kevin Stone created Joint Juice in 1999 as an easy-to digest alternative to the horse pills his patients were taking—and reporting relief from—to get their glucosamine dose. Many of his patients were athletes, though many people develop joint dryness, swelling and pain from chronic illness such as arthritis from just plain aging as well as exertion.

In addition to the gag factor associated with swallowing glucosamine pills, which were generally derived from shellfish that originated from China, there were also allergy and overall safety concerns. Stone worked with Foster City, Calif. food-development firm Mattson to develop 8-fl. oz. drinks containing vegetable-based glucosamine with pleasing flavor profiles and 25 calories per can.

After expanding throughout Costco’s network, Robertson worked on getting  into other club stores, such as Sam’s Club. Since then, the company strategy has been to concentrate on breaking into one new channel per year. Now, Joint Juice is available at mass, drug and, most recently, supermarket and convenience stores, thanks to line extension Joint Juice Fitness. JJF is an enhanced water with the same glucosamine benefits as the juice but with 10 calories per 16.9-oz. bottle and three flavors: lemon, berry and kiwi-strawberry.

Gerry Khermouch, editor of Beverage Business Insights in West Nyack, N.Y., said the brand has a good functional premise in a market that is currently experiencing lots of skepticism over dubious claims. Robertson’s tapping into pre-existing science, he noted.

Plus, the brand should be able to maintain its premium price. “Nobody will mistake it for VitaminWater, so he shouldn’t get dragged into that morass of having to discount it to $1 a bottle,” Khermouch said.

Evolving the product and delivery system to the ready-to-drink water arena was also a smart move. “It’s a fertile segment in a format that’s approachable to people,” Khermouch said. “Active adults aren’t shopping in the supplements aisle, so if Robertson’s getting in supermarkets next to the bottled water and the Gatorades, he has a much better chance of closing the sale.”

Now that the brand has a strong retail presence, it’s stepping up marketing. Last week, the brand launched the Joint Health Challenge at its Web site. It is currently testing TV  in select markets as well. To date, marketing has been grassroots, with “point of pain” sampling at marathons. “Sampling is important because the word ‘glucosamine’ sounds bad—it shows people it doesn’t taste like medicine.” If the potion works, they come back for more. “If I help you with your pain, that’s the ultimate loyalty,” Robertson says.