Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Story behind Gatorade

Half way through the book Reverse Innovation and I am so tempted to continue reading. Except, there is a such a world where reading is not all what you do :-)

This book has got me hooked primarily since the author speaks on a theme that I completely believe in. That is, innovation is not bound to happen in only rich economies but in fact, it flows uphill from the developing to the developed world. Either organizations are blind or they simply don't want to take risk, if they disagree with this concept. And that is why it is so important that such a well-researched book built on real world case studies and practical strategies to leverage this trend, should and must be one of the books in a CEO's arsenal.

Right from Mohammad Yunus's Microfinance concept to Mahindra & Mahindra establishing themselves as world leaders in tractor manufacturing manifest this serious belief. 

And an interesting excerpt about how Gatorade came to be because of a discovery that took place in Bangladesh, is eye-opening.

Excerpt from the book:

Gatorade. It is as American as baseball and apple pie.

Its 1960s roots can be traced back to the sun-scorched University of Florida and its football team - the Gators. Oppressive heat and humidity led the team's trainers to seek better ways than water alone to quickly rehydrate players. They turned to the school's research labs, which came back with a concoction of water, glucose, sodium, potassium, and flavorings. The tasty cocktail sped the replenishment of the electrolytes and carbohydrates that players lost through sweat and exertion.

Even before it became an actual brand, Gatorade got a nice marketing boost from the coach of Georgia Tech. Asked how the team had lost to Florida in the 1967 Orange Bowl, he lamented, "We didn't have Gatorade."

It is a great story, and it is wonderfully fitting for an American icon. But there is an interesting missing link, one that leads back to events far from Gainesville, Florida.

Earlier in the 1960s, there were epidemic outbreaks of cholera in Bangladesh and elsewhere in South Asia. The key to keeping cholera patients alive was simple: keep them hydrated.

According to Mehmood Khan, chief scientific officer of PepsiCo (which bought Gatorade in 2001), Western doctors who went to Bangladesh and elsewhere to help stem the epidemic were surprised to discover a centuries-old treatment for the severe diarrhea caused by cholera. The concoction included ingredients such as coconut water, carrot juice, rice water, carob flour, and dehydrated bananas. At the time, Western medical opinion held that putting carbohydrates in the stomachs of patients suffering from diarrhea would cause cholera bacteria to multiply and the disease to worsen. "Yet for thousands of years, this was the normal treatment used in Ayurvedic medicine", says Khan. "By giving carbohydrates and sugar in the solution with salt, uptake was quicker, and patients rehydrated faster."

The success of the treatment was covered in the British medical journal Lancet and made its way to a doctor at the University of Florida. The doctor saw a common problem in the need for rapid rehydration. If such a treatment worked well for cholera patients, it would surely work for healthy football players. 

The Gatorade story was unusual for its era. It ran counter to the dominant innovation pattern. Innovations typically originated in rich countries and later flowed downhill to the developing world. Gatorade, by contrast, swam against the tide. It was a reverse innovation.


Deepika Gangula said...

Nice one Manju!

Harsha Vardhan said...

Thank you for the info manju.