Bawls
BAWLSGuarana-BlueBG - high res logo.JPG
TypeSoft drink
ManufacturerSolvi Acquisition
Country of originUnited States
IntroducedNovember 1996
(25 years ago)
 (1996-11)
FlavorCitrus and cream soda
IngredientsGuarana
Variants
  • Cherry
  • Cherry Cola
  • Ginger
  • Orange
  • Root Beer
  • Zero
Websitewww.bawls.com

Bawls (marketed as BAWLS Guarana)[1] is a non-alcoholic, highly-caffeinated soft drink.

Created in 1996, the citrus-and-cream soda-flavored beverage leans heavily on the caffeine and natural flavor of the Amazonian guarana berry. Packaged in unique cobalt-blue bottles and cans, the drink was well received by gamers, to whom the company quickly began extensively marketing (through both sponsorships and video games themselves). The soda's name has an unclear provenance, and as of July 2022 is still sold—alongside six other flavors.

History

In 1994, Hobart C. Buppert III (born 1973 or 1974) was a student at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. While traveling through Vienna, he found club dancers were paying US$10 (equivalent to $18.28 in 2021) for cans of non-alcoholic, highly-caffeinated, "sludgy brew" derived from guarana beans.[2] Himself unable to tolerate coffee, Buppert saw potential in refining the drink he saw in Europe, and received permission from Cornell to develop a business plan as an independent study.[3]

Buppert graduated from Cornell in 1995 with a degree in finance.[3] In 1996, he took out a loan for $200,000 (equivalent to $345,555 in 2021) to launch Hobarama in Miami Beach, Florida. That November in South Beach,[4] he launched his first product: Bawls Guarana, a soft drink with three times the caffeine of Coca-Cola Classic. Bawls capitalized upon trends of the mid-1990s by being highly caffeinated, derived from natural ingredients, and having a gimmicky premise. By 1998, Bawls was not only popular in the nightclubs of New York City, South Florida, and Southern California, but was spreading to grocery stores in the US and Europe.[2] In its first year, Bawls brought in revenue of $400,000 (equivalent to $665,006 in 2021).[5] By 2000, Bawls was distributed by Arizona Distribution,[6] and two years later, Hobarama moved into new Miami Beach offices at 311 Lincoln Road.[7]

By November 2009, Hobarama was struggling, and creditors like Fifth Third Bank forced out chief executive officer (CEO) and founder, Buppert. A restructuring plan was put into place, and the company was entertaining any buyout offers.[8] On stable footing by 2012, the company bought out competitors Crunk Energy Drink and Strut & Rut.[9] Jon Gunnerson was the company's CEO in 2014, which had since moved its offices to Twinsburg, Ohio.[7]

The marketing and higher caffeine content of Monster Energy delivered the first damage to Bawls' market share in 2002 by being more-widely appealing. The company later lost even its gamer niche to brands including Mtn Dew Game Fuel, Rockstar, and G Fuel—a brand with over 111 times more social-media followers. In 2022, the drink was being produced by Solvi Acquisition, and Bon Appétit reported on both Buppert's prediction that Bawls was in its twilight, and that the drink was "nearly impossible to find in stores".[10]

Production

Composition

The Baltimore Sun described Bawls' taste as citrus-foavored cream soda, and the soft drink gets its caffeine from the Amazonian guarana berry.[1]

In 2002, a twelve-US-fluid-ounce (350 ml) bottle had 80 milligrams (1.2 gr) of caffeine, and cost about $1.00 (equivalent to $1.51 in 2021).[4] In 2004, a ten-US-fluid-ounce (300 ml) bottle had as much caffeine as 1.5 cups of coffee, and cost between $1–1.50 (equivalent to $1.43–2.15 in 2021).[3]

In 2015, the 16-US-fluid-ounce (470 ml) can of original Bawls had 95 calories (400 J), and both the composition and guarana suppliers were yet unchanged from 1996.[7]

Packaging

A Bawls bottle (2009) and can (2007)

In 2003, Bawls sourced its cobalt-blue bottles from Germany, and the bottle caps from Ecuador. They came together in Hillside, New Jersey where Bawls was bottled with guarana from Brazil.[11] Circa 2005, Buppert described the drink's brand identity as based on the unique bottles, where the raised bumps "convey the idea of 'bouncing balls inside the bottle punching their way out.'"[12]

In 2006,[13] Hobarama developed a canned variant of Bawls both for shipping to overseas fans serving with the United States Armed Forces,[14] and distribution at events prohibiting glass containers (e.g. paintball tournaments). The company partnered with Crown Beverage Packaging to develop a can that would evoke the uniqueness of the textured bottles: the 16-US-fluid-ounce (470 ml) aluminum cans are the first to feature foaming ink, a new and then-unused technology that applies a low-gloss print that swells when heated, giving the cans a surface akin to the bottles'. In Montreal, Crown's manufacturing of these new cans took 18.6–30 percent longer than traditional can-printing processes.[12] The can was one of Brand Packaging's selections for "best new consumer package goods packages of 2006."[13]

Marketing

By 2002, Bawls was focusing its marketing on gamers, who amounted to 50 percent of the drink's consumers, and were "typically males between 18 and 34." Eschewing the healthy-benefits claims of other energy drinks of the time, Bawls instead focused on just being a soft drink with lots of caffeine, earning "an almost cult-like following among computer addicts looking for a source of energy to keep them awake for gaming binges lasting 15 to 24 hours straight." That year, the company sponsored 2500 LAN parties.[4]

To capitalize on the connection, the national chain CompUSA began selling the soda in its stores[1] "to court the hard-core gamer market" (those who played PC games for more than 40 hours per week).[15] From 2004 through at least 2008, Bawls was featured at the Penny Arcade Expo, which brought the drink "a huge amount of attention". Bawls partnered with GameFly in 2008 to cross-promote each other through mutual discounts.[16] In 2014, the Bawls was still marketed to gamers, including sponsoring QuakeCon 2014 where 4,799.9 US gallons (18,170 l; 3,996.8 imp gal) were drunk.[7]

Name

In a 1998 interview with CNNfn, Buppert said of the name, "[it] represents a state of mind. Bawls is a very common slang term—to be bold and daring—and that's how we see the product. [...] I think it's very difficult for a consumer to forget a product called Bawls Guarana."[5] In 2002, The Mercury News reported that BAWLS was an abbreviation for Brazilian American Wildlife Society, "intended to promote sustainable uses for the rain forest";[4] Buppert repeated that story to CNN in 2003.[11] A 2004 article by The Cornell Daily Sun said Buppert was brainstorming to emulate the strong names of existing brands (Flying Tiger, Red Bull), when "Bawls" instead came from a friend's joke of "Why don’t you just call it Balls?"[3] When Gunnerson was asked about the name in 2015, he said, "Bounce like a ball. It gives you enough energy and fuel. That was really the inspiration of it from my understanding. […] Bounce with BAWLS was really our one key tagline for quite some time."[17]

Product placement

Hobarama and Vivendi Universal Games made a deal in 2002 for cross-promotion.[18] Bawls received product placement as a game mechanic in the 2002 video game, Run Like Hell: protagonist Nick Conner drinks Bawls from vending machines to boost his health.[19] In exchange, cases of Bawls bore advertisements for the game.[18]

In the 2004 video game, Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, a shakeup in the management of Interplay Entertainment led to the replacement of the Fallout series' iconic Nuka-Cola with the real-world Bawls for the franchise's first outing on consoles. The swap was not well-received by fans.[20]

Bawls has also been featured in TV shows and films, including The Big Bang Theory, The Hangover, and Silicon Valley.[17]

Sponsorships

In 2002, the soda was the official soft drink of the Cyberathlete Professional League.[21] Bawls has also been the official energy drink for the National Professional Paintball League (in 2004 & 2006),[22] Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week (2008),[23] and Olympus Fashion Week.[13]

Reception

In 1998, after Bawls was positively reviewed by Stephen Heaslip of Blue's News, the company's own site traffic increased by 2700–11320 percent.[15] In 2003, The Baltimore Sun called the drink "a smooth and tasty sip."[1] In 2005, Hobarama shipped 20 million bottles of Bawls.[14] Ars Technica wrote of Bawls in 2008, "the huge amounts of caffeine within each bottle—along with the fact that it tastes far better than Red Bull—have made it a favorite beverage at many a LAN party and game tournament since [2004]."[16]

Variants

The sugar-free Bawls Guaranexx was the first variant of Bawls, released in 2003.[13] In 2006, Hobarama partnered with 7-Eleven to produce a Bawls-based Slurpee (Sno Bawls) in the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex.[14] By 2008, additional Bawls variants were available, including Bawls Cherry and Bawls Exxtra.[23] Bawls' root beer variant—G33k Beer—premiered at a 2008 Halo tournament in South Miami, Florida;[24] that year it was named BevNET's Energy Drink of the Year.[25]

As of July 2022, there were eleven combinations of Bawls flavors and packaging listed on the official website. In ten-US-fluid-ounce (300 ml) bottles was Original Soda, Orange, Ginger, Cherry Cola, Cherry, and Root Beer. The 16-US-fluid-ounce (470 ml) cans were sold with Original, Zero, Orange, Cherry, and Root Beer.[26]

References

  1. ^ a b c d Engram, Sara (January 7, 2003). "A drink with kick and citrusy taste". The Baltimore Sun. ISSN 1930-8965. OCLC 244481759. Archived from the original on June 20, 2021. Retrieved August 5, 2022.
  2. ^ a b Furchgott, Roy (March 2, 1998). "Trend Spotting: Anyone Can Play". Bloomberg News. Archived from the original on July 11, 2021. Retrieved August 4, 2022. And sussing out the latest craze may point you toward a profitable future
  3. ^ a b c d Bishop, Katy (February 3, 2004). "It Takes BAWLS". The Cornell Daily Sun. ISSN 1095-8169. Archived from the original on October 25, 2020. Retrieved August 4, 2022.
  4. ^ a b c d Walker, Elaine (August 11, 2002). "Drink gives gamers jolt of energy". The Mercury News. ISSN 0747-2099. OCLC 145122249. Archived from the original on December 8, 2003. Retrieved August 4, 2022. Bawls Has More Caffeine than Coke
  5. ^ a b Schuch, Beverly (July 17, 1998). "It takes Bawls to compete". New York: CNNfn. Archived from the original on August 21, 2007. Retrieved August 5, 2022. 25-year-old soda entrepreneur faces the bottling giants with guts and moxie
  6. ^ Tiffany, Laura (March 2000). "Prime Timers". Entrepreneur. ISSN 0163-3341. Archived from the original on August 25, 2012. Retrieved August 5, 2022. Entrepreneurs on TV
  7. ^ a b c d Kaplan, Andrew (November 1, 2014). "Energy drinks grow up". Winsight Grocery Business. Archived from the original on August 5, 2022. Retrieved August 5, 2022. Energy drink consumers are getting older, and manufacturers are not forgetting about them.
  8. ^ Casey, Matt; Klineman, Jeffrey (January 12, 2010). "Restructuring, Potential Sale in Process at Hobarama". BevNET. Archived from the original on June 17, 2021. Retrieved August 6, 2022.
  9. ^ Klineman, Jeffrey (April 5, 2012). "Bawls Buys CRUNK!!! And Strut & Rut!!!". BevNET. Archived from the original on August 6, 2022. Retrieved August 6, 2022.
  10. ^ Erol, Esra (April 20, 2022). "Before Monster and Rockstar, There Was Bawls". Bon Appétit. ISSN 0006-6990. Archived from the original on August 7, 2022. Retrieved August 15, 2022. The soft drink with a kick was all the rage at LAN parties in the early 2000s—and then it fizzled out.
  11. ^ a b "Great Inventions, Recreation, Entertainment and Food". NewsNight with Aaron Brown. CNN. December 25, 2003. Archived from the original on August 28, 2004. Retrieved August 5, 2022.
  12. ^ a b Mohan, Anne Marie (March 11, 2015), "Foaming ink has BAWLS bouncing into new markets", Packaging Digest, ISSN 0030-9117, archived from the original on June 12, 2021, retrieved August 6, 2022
  13. ^ a b c d Fuhrman, Elizabeth (November 1, 2006), "Hobarama LLC: 10 Years and Counting", Beverage Industry, archived from the original on July 28, 2021, retrieved August 6, 2022
  14. ^ a b c "Drinks tap troops' staying-awake power". The Denver Post. Miami. Knight Ridder. February 19, 2006. ISSN 1930-2193. Archived from the original on August 6, 2022. Retrieved August 6, 2022.
  15. ^ a b ElBoghdady, Dina (September 24, 2002). "CompUSA's New Buzz". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. OCLC 2269358. Archived from the original on August 5, 2022. Retrieved August 5, 2022.
  16. ^ a b Thompson, Michael (July 8, 2008). "Bawls and GameFly forming (un)holy alliance". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on December 2, 2012. Retrieved August 6, 2022.
  17. ^ a b Gunnerson, Jon (2015). "Finding Focus with Jon Gunnerson, CEO at BAWLS Acquisition" (Interview). Interviewed by Morquecho, Javier. Specialty Sodas. Archived from the original on October 22, 2021. Retrieved August 15, 2022.
  18. ^ a b Richtel, Matt (September 17, 2002). "Product Placements Go Interactive in Video Games". The New York Times. p. C1. ISSN 0362-4331. OCLC 1645522. Archived from the original on April 10, 2021. Retrieved August 5, 2022.
  19. ^ Catucci, Nick (April 29, 2003). "Sell Like Hell". The Village Voice. ISSN 0042-6180. Archived from the original on September 15, 2018. Retrieved August 5, 2022.
  20. ^ Mason, Graeme (November 11, 2018). "The Fallout game that time forgot". Eurogamer. Archived from the original on August 5, 2022. Retrieved August 5, 2022.
  21. ^ Becker, David (August 16, 2002). "Gamers fight for right to LAN party". San Jose, California: CNET. Archived from the original on August 5, 2022. Retrieved August 5, 2022. Kegs and co-eds are so uncool. Hip parties revolve around a couple of mid-range servers, caffeine-loaded drinks and a half a mile or so of Category 5 cable.
  22. ^ Klineman, Jeffrey, ed. (July–August 2006). "PaintBawls". Beverage Spectrum. Vol. 4, no. 6. Cambridge, Massachusetts: BevNET. p. 42. Archived from the original on August 6, 2022. Retrieved August 6, 2022.
  23. ^ a b Belanger, Mehgan; Mastroberte, Tammy (September 16, 2008). "BAWLS-y Couture". Convenience Store News. New York. Archived from the original on August 6, 2022. Retrieved August 6, 2022.
  24. ^ Thompson, Isaiah (May 22, 2008). "It's Raining Energy Drinks". Miami New Times. ISSN 1072-3331. Archived from the original on November 1, 2016. Retrieved August 6, 2022.
  25. ^ Zmuda, Natalie (June 8, 2009). "Give Brands Bucking the Downtrend in Beverages". Ad Age. Archived from the original on October 28, 2017. Retrieved August 6, 2022. Upstarts Have Snagged Distribution Deals With Likes of Pepsi, Nestle
  26. ^ "Flavors | BAWLS Guarana". Bawls. Archived from the original on July 15, 2022. Retrieved August 6, 2022.