Vancouver Sun

Had your morning cube of coffee?



A hot new startup was making people’s hearts race — in a literal sense — on the streets of Austin, Texas, during March’s fashionabl­e South by Southwest festival.

Nootrobox Inc. representa­tives handed out red-and-yellow packets of Go Cubes, chewable gummies with about half a cup of coffee’s worth of caffeine per cube. As word of the sugar-coated pick-me-ups spread, people started seeking out the freebies.

“It was turning a lot of heads,” said Nootrobox co-founder Michael Brandt. “People would come up with their three friends and say, ‘Can we all have one?’ ”

The South by Southwest buzz and some high-profile media mentions from the New York Times and BuzzFeed have since led to a rush on Go Cubes, which Brandt said are currently only available on back order.

Canada is one of the biggest markets for the gummy coffee, with orders rivalling those from California and New York, despite the currency difference and a US$5 shipping fee that bring the cost per twocube dose to about US$2.30.

The widespread appeal of Go Cubes has Brandt believing that they could one day take market share away from coffee. Considerin­g that market was worth US$81 billion in 2013, according to researcher Euromonito­r Internatio­nal, even a small slice of that would make him wildly wealthy.

But changing the habits of loyal coffee drinkers will require a product that seems normal and tastes great, both of which are going to be challenges for Nootrobox.

The company’s focus is nootropics, supplement­s designed to improve cognitive functions such as thought, memory and creativity.

Nootropics have gained a dedicated following among a subculture of people who see the human body and mind as systems to be hacked, not unlike a computer. But to take the concept from obscure online message boards to the mainstream, the company needed something a little more palatable to the average person.

An obvious choice was caffeine, the western world’s most widely used and socially acceptable mind-altering substance.

Caffeine plus L-theanine, a relaxing amino acid found in tea that some research suggests balances out caffeine’s jittery effects, is known among nootropics enthusiast­s as a good combinatio­n for beginners and it’s what Nootrobox decided to use as the two main active ingredient­s in Go Cubes.

As a result, it can market a product that has all the benefits of coffee, but without all the things that are annoying or inconvenie­nt — the jitters, fear of spilling, inconsiste­nt dosage levels and eventual crash.

Chris Schmidt, an analyst at Euromonito­r who covers the vitamin and dietary supplement industry, said he can see nootropics catching on.

“The idea of a smart pill, I think, resonates with a much wider demographi­c base,” Schmidt said. “A 25-year-old guy may not be worried too much about his heart health or his eye health, but he’s going to really want something that’s saying, hey, this will help you perform better at work.”

Energy drinks, he notes, already form a huge category that’s growing faster than soft drinks overall. Go Cubes offer a similar effect — one cube has 50 milligrams of caffeine — without all that fizzy, sugary liquid sloshing around in your stomach.

But National Post staff who tested Go Cubes unanimousl­y agreed Nootrobox has some work to do on the taste and texture.

The cubes come in three flavours — mocha, pure drip and latte — and it’s hard to tell which one you’re getting, making for a Russian roulette-like experience if you don’t like the distinctiv­e and bitter “pure drip” (no one did) or the somewhat cloying mocha (reactions ranged from “the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth” to “huh, OK”).

All three have a lingering aftertaste frequently described as similar to burnt diner coffee.

But at least they taste better than caffeine pills, according to Kyle Skayman, a 28-year-old self-described “caffeine fanatic” who coowns an independen­t pharmacy in Hamiota, Man. Skayman said he reduced his daily coffee intake to three cups from 10 before trying Go Cubes and has now cut down to just one cup a day, plus a couple of the gummies.

“I’m perking up more from two cubes than I am from the coffee I’m making,” he said, adding that if Go Cubes become available in Canadian retail stores, “I can certainly see myself buying them on a regular basis.”

Brandt said Go Cubes are meant to be a supplement taken in measured and specific doses, not a candy to casually snack on. For now, he sees them catching on as something coffee lovers stash in a bag or in a desk drawer for times when a freshly prepared hot beverage isn’t convenient.

“You can have a cup of coffee now, you can save Go Cubes for later,” he said. “I think it’s complement­ary.”


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