Hydration is all the rage these days it seems. Between water challenges, pricey bottles, and ever-expanding grocery store aisles filled with clear fluids and fancy labels, it’s somewhat tempting to write the whole hydration thing off as a fad. Except, you know, you do need to hydrate. And how you choose to do that does, in fact, matter.
“Some of the trends you’re seeing out there are more marketing than science,” says Ben Schmidt, cofounder and vice presidents of sales for HOIST, a Cincinnati-based hydration drink. “Hydration has become very big, and we feel like we’re about 10 years ahead right now.”
“Energy drinks have just exploded, right?” says Kelly Heekin, the company’s cofounder and president. “That’s all well and good, but hydration, as a health perspective, should be paramount. Hydration in itself is energizing.”
How do a couple of Cincinnatians decide to start a beverage company? Well, the answer dates back to the pair’s high school days. Schmidt (a northern Kentucky native) and Heekin (a Cincinnatian) both attended Summit Country Day School with Dustin Cohen, who went on to become an NFL linebacker. The friends all stayed in touch and, around 2000, Cohen shared a secret with the future HOIST founders: Those orange jugs on the sidelines at football games? They were filled with Pedialyte.
“He told us, if you go out tonight and have a couple of beers, the best thing you can do for yourself is consume Pedialyte,” Schmidt says. “Kelly and I were just out of college and having fun in our 20s, and at that age, that advice really resonated.”
The pair followed their friend’s advice, stocking their refrigerator with Pedialyte, but noted the product had some downsides. Namely, it was expensive, didn’t taste great, and carried an embarrassing stigma for single young adults. These observations led Schmidt and Heekin (along with one of Heekin’s brothers and friend, Jim Price) to eventually connect with a local beverage scientist, Chris McVicker, asking him if he could make a better and better-tasting version of the iconic hydration beverage.
So HOIST started out as a hangover helper? Yes, Schmidt says. But in the ensuing decade, the product has matured alongside its co-creators. And today, after more than a decade of development and product refinement, the company is having a moment. In 2019, HOIST’s powder products received field-feeding authorization by the U.S. military, followed by approval as an operational ration from the Unitized Group Ration – A Option (UGR-A).
“That was a pivotal moment,” Schmidt explains. “It gave us the validation that our formulation is good enough.”
The military connection also provided a once-in-a-lifetime marketing opportunity, leading HOIST to pivot branding initiatives to focus on their status as a military supplier with a range of retail products, too. Meaning that, whether you’re recovering after a run, hydrating during a workout, or trying to keep up on a summer jobsite, you can trust HOIST as a product vetted by the Department of Defense to meet your needs.
Which raises the question: What makes HOIST so good at what it offers?
“There’s a good amount of science to it,” Heekin says. “The formula has the perfect amount of electrolytes, carbohydrates, and fluid. When you drink it, it instantly gets out to your bloodstream to hydrate your body. We call it ‘IV-level hydration’ because it is very similar to an IV.”
And Schmidt says the science behind their offerings is what they’re most proud of. “[It’s] significantly superior to what you would find in a Gatorade or a Powerade,” he adds. “It’s a much healthier, better-for-you product.”
The brand’s journey has come a long way since the early days, and the pair’s tenacity has paid off, with HOIST anticipating 2022 to be a banner year for their product offerings.
“It’s been a bumpy ride along the way,” Schmidt notes. “But now we’re expanding outward from Cincinnati and have identified some key areas, and there’s a whole lot of expansion that will take place within those areas.”
But he says their Midwestern roots are keeping them grounded. “It’s a priority for us to really own our backyard,” Schmidt explains. “Cincinnati is our home, and anytime there’s an opportunity here to get products in people’s hands, that’s a massive priority for us.”
To that end, HOIST joined TQL Beer Series last week as its official hydration sponsor. The beer series starts with the Bockfest 5K on Saturday, March 5, and continues with the Fifty West Mile on Friday, April 29, and the Hudepohl 14K/7K Brewery Run on Saturday, Sept. 17.