Each Saturday morning, a grand Australian tradition takes place: Thousands of people nursing hangovers drop an orange disc into a glass of water, down the resulting bubbly drink, and hope for a quick end to their sorrows.
The orange disc is called a Berocca. It turns a plain glass of water into a concoction full of B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, and sometimes caffeine. Somehow this product turned into the preferred hangover cure in Australia and a popular one in South Africa, England, Korea, and France, along with dozens of other countries. Now the imbibers in the U.S. can try their luck with Berocca, too. Bayer has just brought the product stateside and is selling it in stores like Safeway, CVS, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, and Target. "It was the right time and the right moment," says Laura Pinkett, the senior brand manager for Berocca at Bayer Healthcare.
The Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche invented Berocca and started selling it in the 1960s. The first part of the name was a reflection of the B vitamins, the RO stood for Roche, and the CA stood for calcium, and by the 1980s the company was marketing it as if not exactly a hangover cure, then something close to it: "Berocca puts back what a hectic lifestyle takes away," the announcer says.
Bayer acquired the product in 2005 after buying Roche's consumer health group and helped expand sales of Berocca to 70 countries. Now the product appears regularly on hangover cure lists all over the globe. This is Bayer's official position on that: "Whilst there have been no studies conducted on the effect of Berocca on hangovers, alcohol can affect the absorption and use of the B group vitamins. Apart from the other essential vitamins and minerals, Berocca is a high-dose vitamin B supplement which may help restore depleted levels of B-vitamins. Drinking a lot of water or other rehydrating drinks will help towards preventing or lessening most hangover symptoms. Having a Berocca effervescent tablet in water may also help you rehydrate."
I'm half Australian and have been forcing my parents to smuggle dozens of Berocca tubes to me for years. Mostly I like to have a Berocca in the morning, sort of as an orange juice alternative. I'm not sure that the little discs actually do anything, but the idea that they're nutritious makes me feel good. As for the hangovers? Well, in my experience, a Berocca can only do so much.
Bayer noticed that there were lots of Aussies and Brits in the U.S. who, like me, were having their friends smuggle in Beroccas. A couple of years ago, it quietly set up buyberocca.com, where Americans could order the product. In 2012 it conducted a limited retail test through Duane Reade.
This time around, Bayer is going hog wild to promote the product. Its ad campaign stars Joel McHale as a demented motivational speaker named Brock Spedwell. The character's name is a play on what Bayer is trying to hype up about Berocca: that it's a boost for your mind (caffeine) and body (vitamins). "We looked at the market and saw multivitamins at one end and energy shots at the other end," says Pinkett. "We felt like there was a great opportunity in this white space in between." Drink up, America.