Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Energy gum
Apollo Energy Gum was a long time coming. It's been in its current form since early 2018, but has roots going back to the heyday of Go Fast energy drinks, launched by Widgery in 2001.
"We've been working on the gum for 10 years," he says. "Our goal is to create the next category, if you follow energy. There was coffee for hundreds of years. Then Red Bull was thought of and most people know it as the first energy drink."
Brands like RockStar and Monster followed Red Bull, as well as 5-hour Energy. "It was just a progression of energy," says Widgery. "This is next. The liquid core is equal to one serving of Red Bull or GoFast in terms of caffeine and B vitamins and such."
"The liquid center comes out in the first 17 seconds," explains Wilkinson. "That means that all of the B vitamins and caffeine are released out of the liquid center, and you start to chew into the regular xylitol, spearmint piece of gum."
Caffeine is bitter, so it's important for it not to be part of the gum, but that's not the only reason for the liquid core. "We want that to be released quickly so that it takes a noticeable effect quickly Then we want the xylitol to have an effect on oral health and it takes time for that exposure to happen."
Just like the energy drink industry, some of Apollo Brands' repeat customers are athletes. "That's driven mostly by their own desire to participate and help us build this category," Wilkinson says. Fans are spending hundreds of dollars a year on $3.99 packs of gum as well as larger boxes of gum, which Wilkinson says are its biggest sellers.
However, they're unpaid ambassadors of the brand, not sponsored spokespeople, and the brand isn't using the splashy advertising seen in the energy drink industry, says Widgery. "We aren't going that extreme route that all the energy drinks did. It's a different consumer."
"It's a big challenge with a consumer packaged good to compete in a very crowded world with advertisers with much bigger budgets than we have as a small Colorado company," Wilkinson says. "So we have to be creative and strategic."
Golf Gum went to market in December 2017 to provide golfers with focus and "smooth" energy. "It's the same thing but we don't have to put as much caffeine in a piece because it just feels better," says Wilkinson. "By using a smaller amount of caffeine and no sugar, it's just the right amount of boost with a smooth taper that doesn't leave any negative side effects as it tapers off."
Fly Gum, however, was created for Wilkinson's and Widgery's side business: jet pack performances with JetPack International. "We get off a flight across the world and are expected to be productive for whatever the local time zone is," Wilkinson says. "We found ourselves chewing Apollo Energy Gum to get over jet lag. We refined the packaging and now we market it as Fly Gum specifically for jet lag relief."
The duo launched the Fly Gum brand in November 2018 and are testing it with a specific group of users. "We've got a group of 787 pilots based out of Denver, United men and women, that are testing Fly Gum now and the feedback's been great," Wilkinson says.
Looking ahead, Apollo Brands will expand internationally with at least one more white-label product and introduce another brand that's targeted to esports, Widgery says. The company will install a second gum-making machine at its Denver facility, which could allow it to offer additional flavors. He also hinted that the company will launch a new product shortly, but he wouldn't go into details about it.
In-store sales are primarily along Colorado's Front Range, but the company also sells direct to consumer and internationally, its three distribution channels. Widgery and Wilkinson anticipate bringing it to additional retailers in targeted markets, like pro shops for Golf Gum and Fly Gum at other locations. "We're in discussions right now to bring it to airport retailers as well as other locations where you would expect to find heavy concentrations of travelers," Wilkinson says.
Challenges: "The education process," says Widgery. "Once they become educated on it they are ambassadors, they're fans."
Adds Wilkinson: "Trying to compete in a very crowded oversaturated marketing world."
Opportunities: "As consumers continue to become more aware of the ingredients that go into the products that they consume on a daily basis, we expect that it will be easier to educate people about the benefits of a functional gum, compared to other forms of energy that they may have been used to in the past," explains Wilkinson.
Needs: Capital and talent. "Raising money could help us grow faster, but I think it's really finding good people," says Widgery.