We wanted you to hear this from us before it hits Beverage World: as of the end of this year, we’re retiring Gatorade and going our separate ways. We will always love and appreciate our fans, but somewhere along the way, Gatorade became a job.
Dana Shires and I (Dr. Robert Cade) met in Florida when we were both in grad school. We bonded over being huge fans of human hydration science. Dana had a little lab in his garage, and we started getting together on the weekends to mess around.
He invited a friend of his from school, Alejandro de Quesada. Alejandro was the kind of guy who just lives and breathes polysaccarides. We’d jam out for hours, cooking up flavor compounds and riffing on carbohydrate structures.
We were getting pretty good, but we needed a flavor emulsifying specialist. So we put up some flyers around town and had try-outs one Saturday. There were a lot of competent chemists, really good at lipid dispersion and sucrose adsorption — but they all seemed a little too polished for our vibe. Then, right at the end of the day, Harry James Free rolled in. He’d taken the bus in from the suburbs. He was wearing some corny homemade lab coat, and we were like “who is this weirdo?” But then we saw his chops emulsifying monopotassium phosphate, and our jaws dropped to the floor.
We started booking gigs hydrating athletes anywhere we could. High school track meets, 10K fun runs, even a county badminton tournament. We didn’t care, we were just having a blast hydrating, even if it was just for 30 people at a Shriners Walkathon. And before long word spread and we were hydrating in bigger venues, building a fan base.
One morning we came into the lab and found Alejandro asleep. He’d been working all night on some orange-colored liquid he called “Alejandro’s Brew.” We immediately knew we had a hit on our hands. The secret ingredient was cyclamate (which was still legal back in those free-wheeling days).
It was just the thing we needed for our next and biggest gig yet: hydrating the Florida Gators football team. The players got into it right away, and by the end of the game they were dumping it all over their coach after the winning touchdown. The Gators signed us right away to a huge deal hydrating their team and “Gatorade” was born. We went on tour with the team, and we finally all quit our day jobs to work full time on Gatorade.
The rest, as they say, is history. Me, Dana, Harry and Alejandro went back into the lab, riffing off each other, trying new flavoring compounds and stabilizers. And the hits just kept coming: Gatorade Rain, Gatorade Frost, Gatorade Fierce. It just seemed like we could do no wrong in those years.
Then things started happening at a dizzying pace. We took “Top New Energy Product” at BevCon 2008 and our contract was bought out by PepsiCo. They made it clear they expected new hits. But how could we follow up on critically-acclaimed G2 Glacier Freeze? We quickly released Gatorade X-Factor and Gatorade Rain, even though some of us thought they seemed unfinished.
Within the group, rifts were forming. Harry was getting into the underground starch gelatinization scene and he wanted to release a gel product. The suits at PepsiCo were pushing hard and, we rushed out Gatorade Prime 01 Pre-Game Gel. The critics were merciless and some of our longtime fans were too. Disagreements about our creative direction moved out into the open. Ultimately, Harry quit Gatorade, which was a blow to the rest of us. We’d made it, but at what cost?
Finally, we put out Gatorade X-Factor and the Gatorade Nutrition Shake. They were both hits, and we were up for a Bevvy at BevCon. But when I looked inside myself and asked “is it in me?” the answer was “no.”
Truth is, for all the runaway sales, the interviews in Food Engineering Monthly, the big sponsorship deals and the money… I’d trade it all in to be jamming on glycolipids back in Harry’s garage. The other guys agreed, and after a few tough talks, we had to face the fact Gatorade has run its course.
I’ll miss working with Dana and Alejandro (and Harry) but this isn’t the last chapter. I can’t get into details yet, but I will be going on tour with a solo sports beverage next year, and we all have other athletic hydration projects in the works. Gatorade may be gone, but you haven’t heard the last of us.
We hope our fans understand, and we have to acknowledge that we wouldn’t be where we are today without you supporting us on this journey. I can only hope that we’ve left you happier and that you got at least a bit better hydrated as we went down the road.
I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom: “Life is a sport. Drink it up.”