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No Fancy Ingredients Here: Pickle Juice Is Latest Craze in Functional Drinks

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Pickle Juice Sport founder Brandon Brooks
Pickle Juice Sport founder Brandon Brooks

If you're fishing during the brutal summer months in the southern U.S. and you suddenly find yourself flopping on the bottom of the boat from a massive leg cramp, don't be surprised if your host sticks a bottle of Pickle Juice Sport in your face.

Why Pickle Juice Sport? Because buying enough jars of pickles to have pickle juice on hand at all times just isn't practical.

Credit: John Kuczala

And more importantly, because the folk remedy seems to work. In a Brigham Young University study, subjects experienced relief within 85 seconds of ingestion (which, interestingly, is too soon for the water and salts to leave the stomach, leading scientists to wonder if it's a neurological effect).

Pickle Juice Sport founder Brandon Brooks did not know this when he started the company back in 2000. In fact, it wasn't even called Pickle Juice Sport at the time. A former store director for Kroger's at the time, he saw the budding success of pomegranate juice and carrot juice, he figured he'd try his hand at Golden Pickle Juice.

After struggling along in the novelty arena for a while, Mr. Brooks started getting orders from athletic trainers around the country. After a rebranding and packaging redesign in 2006, and a marketing push featuring Dallas Cowboys star Jason Whitten, Pickle Juice Sport can be found in 23 states at HEB, Academy Sporting Goods, Super 1 Foods and Brookshire's (cramp-prone consumers not in the South can go to picklepower.com). But it wasn't until recently that the company has become profitable, said Mr. Brooks. And it's "been discontinued more times than it's been accepted."

Lately, he's dialed back major marketing efforts in favor of event partnerships. His model is more Clif Bar than Gatorade -- think niche enthusiasts like triathletes.

In fact, with 2010 sales up 102% from 2009 and 2011 sales 54% higher than 2010 sales, now Mr. Brooks is not taking on any more large-scale retail customers. Just chalk it up to one of the challenges of running a company with fewer than 10 staffers and based on just-in-time inventory (he gets all the juice supplies from a local pickle factory).

The other challenge? Taste. The castoff from dill pickles isn't everyone's cup of cramp-reliever, of course. As Mr. Brooks says, "Nothing on the package tastes good." But he's working on that . In 2012 comes the launch of Pickle Juice Sport Plus (antioxidants and raw pomegranate extract). "A sweeter version," he said -- or, put another way, a little sugar to help the medicine go down.

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