Given the old joke that toddlers and babies act like tiny drunk adults, it’s not surprising that some adult drinkers turn to Pedialyte to cure their hangovers. What is surprising, though, is the rate at which drinkers have flocked to the beverage, which is intended to help young children stay hydrated when dealing with bouts of diarrhea. MarketWatch reports that adult usage of the drink has grown by a whopping 60% since 2012, and adults now account for one third of Pedialyte’s sales.
(Of course, adults technically make up all of Pedialyte’s sales. It would be rare indeed for a baby or toddler to physically purchase Pedialyte, or anything. They can hardly brush their own teeth.)
“There’s an underground movement in social media to drive word of mouth,” including from celebrities Pharrell Williams, said Heather Mason, an executive vice president at Abbott. “We saw increased use by adults. We have high electrolyte and lower sugar content than common [hydration] beverages. That combination caused us to say, ‘We need to be part of this.’ ”
Traditionally, imbibers have turned to sports drinks like Gatorade to soothe their pounding heads, though as Mason noted it is indeed high in sugar. Coconut water has enjoyed some time in the spotlight recently, but given that most hangover symptoms (headache, dry mouth) are attributed to dehydration, it’s no surprise that savvy drinkers turn to a beverage specifically marketed towards tykes dehydrated by the ravages of Montezuma’s Revenge.
Mason says that Pedialyte sales have traditionally grown by single-digit margins year over year, but that the popularity spawned by adults (“adults”) like Miley Cyrus should help sustain more aggressive growth. Currently, Pedialyte sales are also heavily tied to cold and flu season, what with the nasty effects such ailments can have on children’s bowels. But, considering that consuming alcohol is a year-round event, adult purchases may very well move Pedialyte from beneath the seasonal umbrella.
“Any strategy that you develop to be able to expand the user base is a good one,” Robert Passikoff, founder and president of consulting firm Brand Keys, told MarketWatch. “The question is, ‘Can they do it?’ Pedialyte is known for electrolyte absorption for children. Now you have to try to sell to adults. It’s like going out and having a headache and someone asks, ‘Would you like children’s Tylenol?’ Abbott isn’t going to be the only one doing this. Adults are going to feel they need a product of their own. The name becomes a barrier.”
That’s a bold claim, given that executives say they have no intention of changing Pedialyte’s branding or formulation to cater to adult tastes. They do intend to add flavors like strawberry lemonade and orange, which are considered more adult-friendly, along with powdered packs for on the go adults. The biggest change to encourage adult consumption will occur on the marketing end – the “See The Lyte” ad campaign is targeted squarely at adult use, and Similac intends to promote the product at 144 music festivals and sporting events across the country.
Is Pedialyte actually a more effective hangover cure? No, probably not – there’s no indication that diluting some electrolytes (read: salt) into water has any discernible benefit for hydration over plain old water. Indeed, humans have searched for a hangover cure more or less since the morning after alcohol was invented, and yet to this day we’ve come up short. The best “cure” is still lots of water, a couple of aspirin and a cup of coffee, but with a little celebrity backing and a huge marketing push, the number of 20-somethings chugging Pedialyte at their desks will likely only increase.