When Angus Brown first started a mental clarity energy drink company, he probably raised a few eyebrows.
But the young entrepreneur is backing up his claims with clinical research and his company, Ārepa, continues to gain traction.
Brown has been spending up large on studies and patent protection, completing a study at the University of Auckland’s centre for brain research with funding from Callaghan Innovation earlier this year.
The drink was found to significantly improve mental performance and accuracy in physically fatigued athletes. Ārepa’s Key ingredients include pine-bark extract, New Zealand blackcurrants and Japanese green tea.
The word ‘Ārepa’ means alpha in Māori, while ‘alpha brain waves’ are directly related to the state psychologists call ‘flow’ or ‘the zone’. It is the brain wave frequency found when people are in a wakeful state that is characterised by a relaxed alertness.
Brown was inspired to develop a drink specifically for mental performance and neurological health after working for a large multinational energy drink company and disagreeing with selling caffeine and sugar to the public.
Around the same time, he lost grandparents to cognitive illness and saw friends and family struggle with mental health and anxiety.
He says Ārepa is delivering real results for consumers.
“A lot of these people suffer from a cognitive concern and if we can improve that through a New Zealand-made functional food and then validate it with real science then I know we’re on the right track.”
The company recently moved to a new large-scale manufacturing facility that is shared with Karma Cola.
“That’s allowed us to start to engage with export markets, prior to this we were selling out each month in New Zealand and unable to really produce meaningful volumes for export,” Brown says.
Export comprises 5% of sales, but Brown expects that to grow to 20% within 12-months and 40% in the next couple of years.
The company export to Singapore, the Middle East, North Asia and the US.
It also launched an updated beverage containing a third of the calories and over 180 blackcurrants in every bottle.
Brown says the most challenging aspect of the business has been trying to grow sales, brand and a research and development programme all at the same time on a bootstrapped budget with a very small team.
However, the business has a solid group of investors behind it who believe in the product.
Investment from its two key ingredient providers – pine bark from Enzo Nutraceuticals and blackcurrants Waipuna Farms – gives the company the ability to scale when it enters the big markets.
Brown says being New Zealand-made can only take a company so far – quality is paramount.
“You still need to be the best product or service wise but the brand and provenance story for us has an advantage in food products for sure.”
His advice for other Kiwi exporters is to “make your product the best in the world get help when you need it, ensure your brand is epic, politely hustle and never, ever give up.”
With the global nootropics (natural or synthetic substances that can be taken to improve mental performance) market set to hit $6 billion, the future looks bright for Ārepa.