Ain't Life (Less) Sweet? Princeton Entrepreneurs Provide a Natural Alternative to Sports Drinks

Matthew Hersh

Eighteen months ago, Nancy Dince, a certified spin instructor, and Dimitri St. Phard, a youth soccer coach and personal trainer, noticed something terribly wrong at the gym and on the field.

"As a parent, there's a horrifying moment when you see your kid walk off the soccer field and their entire face is blue or red," from drinking the typical sports beverage, said Ms. Dince, a Princeton resident. "When you are trying to raise your kids in an environment where you're trying to feed them the right things, that just sort of doesn't fit."

It was on at this common ground that Ms. Dince and Mr. St. Phard, also a Princeton resident, crossed paths and decided to do something about a fitness mainstay that, to them, didn't vibe with the whole fitness scene.

What they did was to come up with Liv, a new sports beverage that can be spotted at various local establishments, including McCaffrey's, Olives, Abel Bagel, Lucy's Ravioli, and Hoagie Haven, as well as national outfits like Dean & Deluca. Ms. Dince and Mr. St. Phard are spearheading a cultural change of the sports world that is dominated by the "Ades": Gatorade, Powerade, and Accelerade, which, Mr. St. Phard said, are about as healthful as a can of Coke.

"There had to be a better way for people to get the benefits of a sports drink without the obvious negatives," Ms. Dince said. Those negatives include the addition of high fructose corn syrup, a cheap and plentiful sweetener that is common in most mainstream sports drinks. The drawback of high consumption of corn syrup, Mr. St. Phard said, is obesity. "It's the cheapest thing food companies can use to sweeten products."

Conversely, Liv, which is made from rice, uses agave nectar, straight from the agave plant, as its sweetener. No dye is used in Liv, which, for now is available in the two simple flavors of Lemon and Berry. Because of these attributes, "our product is a bit more expensive than our competitors'," Ms. Dince said, adding that the agave has a lower glycemic index, allowing the body to break the sugar down more slowly than it would with corn syrup, without the sugar rush, or "spikes and crashes" that can accompany consumption of other sports drinks.

In the early stages of their venture, coming up with a recipe was more or less trial and error for the duo, however, as they tested their product on willing subjects, including local rowers, members of the Princeton Soccer Association, and runners associated with the Princeton Running Company. They started out using cane sugar to sweeten up the product, but, after receiving feedback on a number of recipes, landed with agave. "We were lucky that a lot of people in the area gave us access to their teams," Ms. Dince said.

A good year passed before Mr. St. Phard and Ms. Dince were ready to bottle a recipe, but by that point, they were pretty sure that what they were packaging had what it took to get the product rolling.

With the help of sales manager (and Mr. St. Phard's brother) Igor, the team put together a concept. "Liv," is short for Ms. Dince's daughter Olivia, who is "the embodiment of energy," Mr. St. Phard said. The logo, upon first glance an elliptical shape, is actually the shape of the Dince family's favorite stone found on the beach in Martha's Vineyard. And the slogan, "Liv Natural," pretty much says it all.

But a smart product can't go a long way without proper funding, and the right angel investors saw that the drink could get off the ground. Entering as an offshoot start-up in an industry estimated in the $3 to $4 billion range is not exactly easy, but enough investor interest was there to make the Liv product viable: "If you carve out just a small piece of that industry, you can be a very big business very quickly," Ms. Dince said, adding that recent growth in the natural and organic segment of the food and beverage industry only bolstered investors' interests.

Distributed by the St. Phard/Dince outfit Ritouna Natural, Liv has likely not yet seen its best days. After only being live for 14 weeks, sites are already set on grander agenda. "For now, we want to focus on schools and universities," Mr. St. Phard said, adding that working a healthier product into the general vocabulary of day-to-day use would help advance the product's general philosophy.

"It's a cultural change, but people are coming around," he said.

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