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CBD Relaxation Beverage Recess Expanding to Magnesium, Challenging Pepsi

4 min read
  • The CBD-water brand Recess is expanding into magnesium-based beverages.
  • Its CEO said this was a way to grow without waiting for the federal government to rule on CBD.
  • Recess is one of several companies in the “functional-beverage” category, a high-growth area.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Recess got its start making CBD beverages meant to help its buyers relax. Now it’s betting that its future will rely in part on another calming ingredient.

The beverage brand is launching Recess Mood on Tuesday, a drink that, like the original version, aims to reduce stress and put the drinker at ease. The new beverage, which comes in canned and powdered forms, will use some of the same flavors from the original Recess line.

But there’s a key difference: Recess Mood’s main ingredient is

magnesium
, not hemp-derived CBD. Unlike CBD, magnesium targets the brain and has the specific effect of improving your mood, CEO and founder Benjamin Witte told Insider.

“All these products are basically delivering the same effect in different ways,” Witte said. “Consumers look at all of these products that are helping them reduce stress and anxiety.”

Magnesium beverages, supplements, and related products are marketed as over-the-counter options for reducing stress.

Witte said the inspiration for a magnesium-based sparkling water came when he learned about the Clorox-owned brand Calm, which sells magnesium in powder, gummies, and other forms.

“I look at magnesium as almost a secret hidden in plain sight,” he said.

That idea, he added, has been validated by launches at the largest beverage makers. PepsiCo, for instance, introduced Driftwell last year, a relaxation beverage that contains magnesium and the amino acid l-theanine. Danone, meanwhile, launched Evian Plus last month, which contains magnesium and

zinc
.

All three drinks are what industry experts call “functional beverages,” or drinks that offer some benefit to the buyer other than regular hydration. The market was worth about $129 million in 2019, according to the Business Research Co., and includes everything from Recess’ relaxation beverages to Nestlé’s recently purchased Essentia brand, which ionizes its water in a process it says delivers more effective hydration than regular bottled water.

Recess products

Recess Mood products.

Recess


Magnesium isn’t just a popular ingredient; it doesn’t have the same legal and distribution headaches as CBD.

CBD lacks regulation at the federal level, which effectively bans CBD brands from key national retailers. While several states, including Vermont, Colorado, and California, have passed laws allowing the sale of CBD products, the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t made a call about whether or how the compound should be added to food and beverages.

“The only reason Recess is not in Whole Foods, Duane Reade, and everywhere is because the FDA hasn’t yet released the guidelines for how it can be used in certain classes of products,” namely food and beverage, Witte said. That reality “was absolutely a factor” that led to Mood’s creation, he added. Tuesday’s launch puts Mood on Amazon, and Witte said he was in talks to add it to shelves at other retailers this summer. The original CBD-infused version is sold directly to consumers and through online grocery marketplaces like FreshDirect.

The magnesium in Recess Mood, meanwhile, is “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, a legal distinction for ingredients that can be added to food and drinks. But the connection between magnesium and reduced anxiety is more equivocal: A 2017 study in the journal Nutrients pointed to a “beneficial effect,” though it also said “the quality of existing evidence is poor” and called for more research.

Both traditional Recess and Recess Mood are competing to stake a claim in the growing market for foods and beverages that calm those who consume them. Witte launched Recess with his friends Justin Hauser and David Hess in 2018. The trio raised $3 million in a seed round in October of that year from investors, including the venture-capital firms Gaingels and Torch Capital.

Witte, Hauser, and Hess said they founded the brand in part as a response to Donald Trump’s electoral victory two years earlier.

“We’re going through this transformational age, and that’s very uncomfortable. It makes us stressed. It makes us anxious,” Witte said. “I think the future is about dealing with the world we’ve created for ourselves.”

Recess markets itself as an alternative to both coffee and alcohol, Witte said. The goal isn’t to get consumers to replace those drinks wholesale in their daily diets, he added, but to get them to swap out some of those two beverages for Recess.

“Do you really need two or three coffees a day?” he said. “Do you really need to drink every single night?”

Witte added: “I don’t think this is like kombucha. This is on the order of caffeine or alcohol long term, and we’re in day zero of this.”

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