good advertising slogan sticks in the
mind like the multiplication tables. Maxwell House, as virtually
everyone knows, is "good to the last drop"; Nike
implores you to "just do it"; and Jolt Cola has "all the sugar,
twice the caffeine."
The last aphorism doesn't ring a bell? Then you probably weren't
a preteen when Jolt was introduced in 1986. The jitters-inducing
soft drink was briefly a junior-high-school fad before maturing into
a niche brand, popular among computer nerds. Yet nostalgia for Jolt
runs deep in the under-35 set, as Kevin Gass and Laurence Molloy
discovered. When the entrepreneurs surveyed 1,000 young consumers in
2000, they found that 80 percent still knew the Jolt slogan by
heart. "That was, like, the light-bulb flash over our heads," said
Mr. Gass. "At that point, we came up with putting Jolt in a
Jolt Gum, like its cola counterpart, provides a speedy kick - two
tablets contain the caffeine equivalent of a cup of coffee. At 12
pieces per $1.49 pack, there are few cheaper ways to catch a
caffeine buzz, said Mr. Gass, who founded GumRunners L.L.C. with Mr.
Molloy to develop and market Jolt Gum.
The concept is simple enough, but the product's voyage from
concept to shelf took far longer than expected. GumRunners first had
to obtain a license from the maker of Jolt Cola, Wet Planet
Beverages in Rochester. Mr. Gass and Mr. Molloy, both former
marketing executives at Colgate-Palmolive,
pitched the gum as yet another way to exploit Jolt's cachet among
consumers who hit puberty in the Reagan era. The idea dovetailed
with Wet Planet's recent brand-building tactic of placing the Jolt
logo on everything from key chains to thong underwear.
License in hand, GumRunners had to formulate a gum that energized
chewers but didn't taste like potting soil. Pure caffeine has an
intolerably bitter flavor, one that the company had a tricky time
masking. "We went through iteration after iteration," said Mr. Gass,
who estimated that GumRunners produced four tons worth of test
pieces. "It took us two years to get the product ready to go."
Jolt Gum might have still been on the drawing board without the
aid of Mauricio Bobadilla, the food scientist who finally perfected
the six-sweetener blend, featuring everything from dextrose to
aspartame. Mr. Gass compares Mr. Bobadilla's work to that done by
acoustic engineers, who use inverse sound waves to block out noise.
At GumRunners headquarters in Hackensack, N.J., Mr. Bobadilla is
referred to simply as MM - "Magic Man."
The gum spent most of 2003 in test markets in New England and
Oklahoma before going nationwide last January. It is now available
in about 10,000 stores. GumRunners hopes the gum will be popular
among cyclists and joggers looking for a boost mid-workout, but who
probably don't want to pause for a hot latte.
Jolt Gum has attracted plenty of attention with a catchy slogan
of its own - "Two More, Do More." It has also drawn unwanted notice
from lawyers for the Wm. Wrigley
Jr. Company in Chicago. They have filed suit against GumRunners,
alleging that Jolt Gum infringes on a 2002 Wrigley patent, involving
a caffeinated gum that was never brought to market. (Wrigley once
sold another caffeinated gum called Stay Alert, but it's no longer
on the market.) The suit specifically targets Jolt Gum's coating,
which contains a sweetener called sucralose.
Mr. Gass declined to comment on the suit, preferring to trumpet
the Department of Defense's decision to include Jolt Gum in an
experimental line of ready-to-eat meals. Soldiers may need a
caffeine boost, but they can also do without one of coffee's main
side effects. Combat is no time for a bathroom break.