Local sports drink to fuel at-risk youth program
New London — Taking a jab at the world of sports drinks, Whaling City Boxing owner Kent Ward has teamed up with two partners to introduce a natural thirst remedy called Heavy Hitters, which includes honey, coconut water and fruit juices.
"It's like a craft sports drink," partner Shannon Brenek said. She's been marketing Heavy Hitters locally at youth sports concession stands.
"We wanted to use things that were not as refined," added partner Don Benoit, who has a background in the beverage industry.
But the goal of Heavy Hitters goes beyond introducing a healthier alternative to sporting types or even making a profit. That's because the partners are launching the new drink largely with the intention of supporting Heavy Hitters USA, a nonprofit set up by Ward years ago to help turn around the lives of at-risk youth through sports competition.
Ward said he has 70 to 80 young men in the program, which mainly involves boxing and wrestling. But it's a constant battle to keep the program going, so he and his partners hit on the idea of launching a sports drink to avoid the hassles of grant writing and fundraising while possibly earning enough to get more kids involved in learning life skills through sports.
Respect, loyalty, honesty, integrity, responsibility and accountability, Ward said, are some of the key concepts that young people without a stable life can learn through sports. Some of the kids have gone on to win New England Golden Gloves championships or wrestle at the national level.
"It's about building relationships," Ward said. "We're keeping kids learning — learning through movement."
And movement requires hydration, which led Ward, Benoit and Brenek to hit upon the idea of a drink to rival Gatorade and the newly popular BodyArmor, an alternative with more natural ingredients. Heavy Hitters decided to do Body Armor one better by using 35 percent fruit juices, including lemon, black currant and apple.
To do the formulation, Benoit asked for help from Rich Busco, a food scientist living in Tennessee with whom he worked when they were marketing Mystic Seaport Soda. Busco came up with the initial mix of ingredients for Heavy Hitters, and the partners did some adjustments — adding more coconut water, for instance — based partly on feedback from groups of students in Benoit's business classes at Mitchell College.
"Students couldn't wait till it came out," Benoit said.
"They really were engaged in it," said Brenek, another Mitchell College instructor, who included her classes in the labeling process. "Students were really involved from the beginning."
The all-natural Heavy Hitters drink, bottled by Maple Lane Farms owner Allyn Brown at his new Norwich Beverage Holdings LLC plant, sells for $2 a bottle or $18.49 for a case of a dozen. A typical manufacturing run is 225 cases, or about 500 gallons.
Heavy Hitter Beverage Co. is aiming to sell its products through gyms and health food stores, as well as youth athletic contests. Smaller regional markets also may be willing to carry the brand, Brenek said.
"We wanted to make it healthy," she said.
A test run with athletes involved in a recent Golden Gloves competition proved successful when every one of the boxers won their first round. In the superstitious world of boxing, this led to some seeing the brew as a "magic potion," Ward said.
"They all felt good," he said. "It's great for hydration. The body assimilates it quickly."
What: Heavy Hitters Beverage Co.
Who: Shannon Brenek, Kent Ward, Don Benoit
Where: 367 Bank St., New London
Phone: (860) 303-0898
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