Seven years ago, Angela Kahn was in need of a healthier alternative to coffee and energy drinks. Within two years, she’d quit her job as global brand & communications director at BP to start her own business, Tesla Nootropics Group, in 2016. The launch this month of the RTD line of TNG’s Nubrain brand gave just-drinks the excuse to speak to Khan about the potential for nootropics, the challenges the segment faces and her hopes for the future of TNG.
just-drinks: What are nootropics?
Angela Kahn: Nootropics are substances that can improve mental performance. In order for an ingredient to be described as nootropic, it has to not have any negative side effects. People who are really into nootropics know how to combine them and make their own ‘stack’, to see what works best for them – depending on their specific needs and their reactions to different ingredients.
Our products are based on natural ingredients only. The journey has taken about four years – drinks are extremely complicated. They have to fulfil both the purpose of having an effect on the consumer and also be able to satisfy the taste buds.
Energy drinks have been around for close to 30 years now. There’s huge saturation in the energy drinks market – it’s our belief that at some point, energy drinks are going to start declining and healthier drinks that have a cognitive effect will be the future.
j-d: What makes you think the nootropic sector has such a bright future?
AK: If you see the amount of products being launched [every] year, you can see how this industry is growing. There’s a forecast that by 2025, it’s going to be over US$7bn in value – that’s a conservative estimate.
I go to different exhibitions, like VitaFoods in Geneva, and I can see nootropics are one of the products to watch. They’re here to stay and I believe they’re going to take a substantial share of the supplements market.
j-d: You used to work for BP. What made you realise you wanted to work with nootropics?
AK: I was a global brand director – quite a heavy role. In a company like BP, there were a lot of things I had to be alert about. There came a point when I felt I needed to take my vitamins to get rid of mental fatigue – that’s when I stumbled across nootropics. It triggered my interest because I felt this was something that’s going to help me manage my daily life and be good at what I do. That’s when I started experimenting with different nootropic products.
I got to thinking: “How about working on a beverage that can be available in the mainstream? It should taste good and it should replace people’s Red Bull or their coffee.”
j-d: Can you talk us through the range of Nubrain waters?
AK: Nubrain Brainstorm makes you feel more invigorated mentally; it helps you feel more creative. Then, we have [Nubrain] Nightflight and a more intense version, [Nubrain] Mission, which has been tested on military staff in the US. We gave samples to the Delta Force – we were working with them over a period of a year, and that’s how we developed Nubrain Mission. The drink gives you everything that Brainstorm does, but Brainstorm has eight nootropics; Mission has 11.
There’s also Nubrain Prodigy, which is for children.
j-d: How is Nubrain Prodigy different from the others?
AK: Today’s children face as many challenges as adults, from the social challenges in school to needing to be able to concentrate. I have two children and I see how difficult things are now compared to even ten years ago. With Nubrain Prodigy, the ingredients are natural, they’re FDA-compliant for children under the age of 18, there’s no sugar in the product and they taste good. It’s important to maintain all these standards for a product to be suitable for kids.
j-d: What’s the competitive landscape like in nootropics?
AK: The competition is definitely increasing. On the one hand, it’s worrying while, on the other, it’s good that a category is being generated.
When we started in 2016, we were giving out samples to wholesalers and retailer, but they weren’t aware of the category at all. They were telling us: “If this was an energy drink, then things would be easy. But, we don’t know what nootropics are.”
Even though it’s quite a straightforward concept, people were feeling sceptical about it. A lot of education was needed, both for the consumer and for business partners.
In the past, we’ve had issues, like where should the product be displayed? Next to energy drinks? Next to aloe vera and coconut water? Where’s it going to go? So, now there’s a category merging, I think that’s going to be beneficial.
j-d: Why did you name your company Tesla?
AK: It definitely has nothing to do with cars! It has to do with the inventor Nikola Tesla. He was one of the brightest minds that existed, with thousands of inventions. We felt that his name would be ideal for nootropics.