The company initially launched in 2016 with a powdered sachet blend of 25 ingredients, each with a specific aim to aid recovery, and has this year launched a ready-made sports drink.
As Siro Tondi, head of sales, explains to NutraIngredients, the company was founded by Peter Schmidt, who, with his background in pharmaceutical science, saw a gap in the market for a product that fitted into the average consumer's lifestyle.
Schmidt embarked on a mission to tackle one of humanity's age-old problems: alcohol hangovers. With a scientific approach, Schmidt immersed himself in thousands of studies related to alcohol metabolism, dedicating five years to gaining in-depth knowledge on the subject.
He reverse-engineered a prototype using ingredients supported by scientific research, each contributing to the body's recovery after alcohol consumption.
Initially, the prototype was tested with friends, gathering overwhelmingly positive feedback. It was at this point that the idea to bring KA-EX to the market was born.
Schmidt invested his savings, left his well-paying job in the pharmaceutical industry, and launched his first product in 2017.
The initial product
Included in the powdered sachet, are folate, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, and vitamin C, aiming to contribute to reducing tiredness and fatigue, pantothenic acid to aid normal mental performance, and zinc to normal cognitive function.
The calcium, potassium, and magnesium aim to contribute to normal muscle function and normal protein synthesis. The riboflavin aims to contribute to the maintenance of normal red blood cells and normal iron metabolism.
The product also claims to support normal homocysteine metabolism, the maintenance of normal liver function, and the protection of cells from oxidative stress.
As Tondi explains, the ingredients are not included for marketing purposes; every component serves a purpose.
He explains: “The Swiss Army knife in the product's logo represents the multitude of ingredients, all working together to normalise bodily processes, protect against toxins, and boost recovery in organs affected by alcohol consumption.”
"You can't say hangover"
The brand name originates from the German word "Kater", meaning hangover, and "Ex" from the Latin root meaning 'out'.
But as Tondi notes: "You're not allowed to use the word hangover in advertising a product, as it is classified as a disease, and you're not allowed in advertising to say a nutritional supplement helps fight against disease."
So their name remains a nod to the origins of 'post-party' recovery, but the company is glad of the vagueness given their move into sports nutrition.
A transition to sports nutrition
Increasingly, consumer feedback led Schmidt to consider the possibility that this should be a product for the sports nutrition market.
Amongst the established fan base of users, reports were coming back to Schmidt that more and more consumers were using the product for exercise recovery.
Surprisingly, Schmidt found that the physiological stress experienced during physical activity mirrored that of alcohol consumption: Dehydration, increased acidity levels, oxidative stress, and mineral depletion were common factors in both scenarios. This realisation prompted further exploration into the sports recovery niche.
It was first tested by local football clubs in Zurich, receiving positive feedback and winning over players.
Tondi explains that professional athletes began approaching KA-EX, reporting its effectiveness in aiding post-exercise recovery.
The success quickly spread, leading to collaborations with multiple sports teams, including FC Union Berlin, the Alfa Romeo Formula One Team, and even Paris Saint-Germain FC.
“Normally you as a brand, have to pay high sums to be an official supplier but we don't pay anything to any of these teams simply because it works for them.
“Whenever we approach a team, we never talk to the marketing or sponsoring team, we always talk directly to the nutritionist or the athletics coach because their goal is just to improve the performance and recovery of the athletes, and they know that’s where we can help them,” Tondi notes.
With the increased interest in sports nutrition products, Tondi explains that producing a ready-to-drink product was the next step.
He explains: “Our goal was to have the same amount of ingredients in this product, and we didn't want to compromise.
“Part of the powder is already dissolved in the liquid, but you cannot dissolve everything because it's not stable, so we had to put those ingredients into this push cap.”
The drink is ‘activated’ by dispersing the powder when the user pushes down the cap, and while the price point is comparably double what a standard sports drink costs, Tondi notes that this is because it is effective in its aims and consumers recognise it as such.
As Tondi explains, the product's effectiveness is not only substantiated by the science behind it but also by real-world results. According to Amazon sales statistics, KA-EX boasts a repurchase rate of 22%, a figure reportedly five times higher than the average for fast-moving consumer goods.
He continues that KA-EX is sustained by the power of word-of-mouth marketing, with customers not only returning to purchase more but also acting as brand advocates, spreading the word to their friends.
Tondi notes that this organic growth has significantly lowered customer acquisition costs, making KA-EX an economically