Hydrogen is the simplest element as each atom of hydrogen contain only one proton, the U.S. Energy Information Administration states on its eia.gov/kids website. Explaining that hydrogen acts as an energy carrier in that it transports energy in a usable form from one place to another, the kid-friendly site provides examples about the potential for hydrogen in a fuel, energy and electricity capacity.

Although mainstream media might be directing much attention to hydrogen’s potential in the energy sector, the universe-abundant element also has the potential to use its energy carrier attributes when it comes to hydration solutions.

Carolyn Chism Hardy, founder and CEO of Hardy Beverage, recalls a meeting with an entrepreneur and doctor who explained to her how the addition of hydrogen gas to water can increase the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of water.

“I got intrigued by the benefits. … In my community, the black community, there’s a major issue of obesity and diabetes,” Hardy says.

Hardy explains that those in minority communities and those who do not make a living wage often are at risk of these health concerns, as well as hypertension, because they live in food deserts or do not have access to quality food.

“The thing that I was drawn into hydrogen water with HTWO is that it doesn’t have caffeine, it doesn’t have dyes, it doesn’t have the sucralose or processed sugars, but it’s giving you the benefits that you need,” she says. “The other thing I loved about it, is it goes directly to your tissues and cells.”

Hardy Beverages HTWO
HTWO is hydrogen-infused water packaged in aluminum pouches to protect the hydrogen gas. Image courtesy of Hardy Beverage

Hardy explains that this direct targeting piqued her interest in the hydration platform.

This prompted her to ask, “Can we put a beverage out there for the community that is good to them, but also is good for them?” she says.

In 2015, Hardy and her team started the research and development that led to the creation of HTWO, a hydrogen infused water. At the time of the interview, HTWO was comprised of eight SKUs, but Hardy noted that once this article publishes, the line with feature 11.

That extension is coming from HTWO Plus, a line that adds electrolytes, with the addition of flavored versions.

“This year, we’re introducing Lemon Lime, Lemonade and Peach Mango,” she says.

Flavors have played an important role in the HTWO universe, as the brand’s White Peach and Acai Pomegranate and Blueberries are the No. 2 and No. 3 SKUs in the Hardy Beverage portfolio. No. 1 is Nightlyfe, an iteration that contains a unique blend of electrolytes and minerals for consumers pregame and recovery efforts following a night out.

Hardy recalls that the origin story for Nightlyfe began seven or eight years ago when she was attending a tradeshow and was told about how hydrogen-infused water can help avoid hangovers. Realizing that other products on the market at the time contained syrups and other additives, the entrepreneurial spirit of Hardy got to work.

At the tradeshow, Hardy and team members instructed attendees to return to the booth at the end of the day to grab a pouch for their evening activities.

“The next morning, they came flying back to our booth and they said ‘what did you do to me,’” she says.

Attendees shared that they reported no next-day effects following an evening out and the company sold its display products before the show ended to those who wanted some shipped to them.

“I went after the nightlife community, because I thought there was a big opportunity,” she says. “Knowing what I know about beer … I knew that if we could pair Nightlyfe in the convenience store in the cooler near the beer, that we could sell a lot of product.”

Yet, Hardy’s eye for what’s next in beverage prompted her to take hydrogen-infused water into a new space: CBD.

“We looked at the CBD market, and there’s a lot of discussion at the state level about legislation and what’s the right thing to do for your state with CBD. I think there’s just so many unknowns with it,” she explains. “What we wanted to do, we wanted to work with, not the derivative from marijuana that causes you to get high, we wanted to work with something that’s all about your health.”

This resulted in the creation of Skhy, an enhanced hydrogen water containing CBD, specific nootropics, and vitamins and minerals. Available in Focus (Orange + Passionfruit), Calm (Lemon + Lavender), Lift (Blueberry + Cranberry), Defense (Acai + Blueberry + Pomegranate), and Shine (Raspberry + Rose), Skhy contains 5 calories in each 16.9-ounce pouch.

Pinpointing the functional attribute names, Hardy says “we wanted to use CBD because CBD is known to help you in those areas.”

“It was again another way to deliver another health solution,” Hardy says.

The thing that I was drawn into hydrogen water with HTWO is that it doesn’t have caffeine, it doesn’t have dyes, it doesn’t have the sucralose or processed sugars, but it’s giving you the benefits that you need.”
— Carolyn Chism Hardy, founder and CEO of Hardy Beverage

Hardy adds that she recognizes that consumers approach health in different ways, with some uninterested in CBD and others eager to engage, but the company wanted to be able to engage with consumers that are interested in CBD.

“We didn’t just want to throw a CBD out there and say, ‘Oh here’s a CBD beverage.’ We wanted a beverage with a purpose,” she says.

Each varietal of Skhy contains a different set of ingredients, making them individually crafted, “to deliver on the results we’re trying to achieve,” Hardy notes.

But Hardy Beverage isn’t looking to just bring hydrogen-infused water to consumers, but also man’s best friend.

Calling attention to her favorite dog, Duck, a 13-year-old Mexican Chihuahua, Hardy explains that, as dogs age they can encounter many joint issues and gut issues, not because of age, but their willingness to eat anything.

She then recounts when Duck and her other dog, Penny, would consume HTWO Original and couldn’t get enough of the product. So the company went on to develop Rallie, an enhanced water for dogs, supported through research in canine sports medicine, animal nutrition and veterinary science.

“When you’re giving them Rallie, Rallie has a host of ingredients in it,” she explains. “All these minerals, vitamins and actives all designed to help them with their joint health and gut health, and has electrolytes. So dogs can smell all these great vitamins and minerals.”

Hardy explains the product isn’t trying to replace the vitamins that dogs take, but trying to support gut and joint maintenance.

Available in Unflavored, A Splash of Peanut Butter, Apple Bacon, Beef and Chicken Champion, Rallie flavors were designed for dogs knowing they don’t gravitate toward bold flavors, but more subtle tastes when it comes to water.

“Their sniffers are so powerful that what we call a little bit to them is magnified many times,” she explains.

Rallie also is taking its next step in distribution with the product appearing in Tractor Supply stores sometime in April.

Packaged for growth

As important as the formulation is to the lineup of hydrogen-infused water throughout Hardy Beverage, packaging is just as important.

“The thing we like about our packages is A, it’s all aluminum so no microplastics … the other thing is with the hydrogen gas, I always say it has a mind of its own, so it tends to want to escape back to the environment, so our cap is designed so we totally trap that hydrogen gas and seal it like an aluminum can would.”

With all of products packaged in pouches, Hardy Beverage turned to case packing as its portfolio grew.

“Packers are a lot easier to work with,” Hardy notes.

In October 2022, Hardy Beverage installed a SOMIC 424 case packer system. The automated wraparound case packer was needed as the company has continued to meet its sales goals, and needed to advance beyond manual case packing.

“Before installing the SOMIC packer, we could only pack 100 units-per-minute (UPM) because we could not source enough temporary labor to hand pack at the filler’s capability,” Hardy stated in a February press release. “Our filler is capable of over 180 UPMs, and this year we plan to run a 10 hour shift, three days a week. As we reach our sales goals, I anticipate adding more shifts.”

SOMIC 424 case packer system
Hardy Beverage installed a SOMIC 424 case packer system in October 2022. Image courtesy of Hardy Beverage

Rooted in success

Hardy Beverage’s success is not solely because of this white space in the beverage market that Hardy was able to fill. Hardy has a long tenure from the consumer packaged goods (CPG) market prior to investing in her own businesses.

In the Memphis area, Hardy worked for the J.M. Smucker Co. before becoming a plant manager with what was then Coors Brewing Co., working her way up to vice president of operations. However, in 2005, Hardy and the team learned that as Coors Brewing and Molson Canada were completing their merger, the Memphis facility was going to shutter.

Knowing the limitations of finding a suitor for the facility and not wanting to see the effects it would have on the Memphis community, Hardy sought to acquire the facility.

Hardy’s confidence of embarking on the entrepreneur path stems from her father.

“My dad was an entrepreneur … and worked for himself for many years,” she explains. “He worked for himself because he used to be a truck driver, and I’m the seventh of 16 children, [and] he couldn’t earn enough money working for somebody so he had to work for himself to be able to afford to feed us.

“So I saw him, how happy he was working for himself,” Hardy continues. “And then my brother started working for him and they were happy. Even though as an entrepreneur you work longer hours, but you get more satisfaction out of it.”

From there she started analyzing the plant and its potential and honed in on the non-alcohol sector, particularly the growth of the energy drinks, ready-to-drink teas and functional beverage spaces, and the dearth of facilities that could accommodate these burgeoning categories.

“I kept following that market and I saw there was a real opportunity there, especially the Coors plant could produce every can size that is sold in the industry, [and] could do both glass and plastic,” she explains. “… I said if I can get my hands on this asset, I can do something that the other co-packers can’t do.”

After acquiring the facility from Coors, she founded Hardy Bottling in 2006 and her first customer secured was AriZona Beverages. Hardy eventually sold this business in 2011, but during her time in the co-packing space, she notes clients included The Coca-Cola Co., Apple & Eve, Rockstar and Celsius.

Given Hardy’s tenure in not just the beverage industry but also as an entrepreneur, she notes that many people ask her why she continues to invest her time and energy into these endeavors.

“I do it because I think we’re underrepresented at retail,” Hardy says. “The reason that we’re underrepresented is that there are a lot of boxes that need to be checked in order to be successful in retail and it costs a lot more money than what you can put in your business plan.”

Hardy explains that for many minority business-owners when working with retailers, a variety of obstacles can come into play. For instance, she recalls a discussion with a retailer in which her displays, that she already had in stock, did not meet the needs for this retailer and the need to within a short-time frame produce displays that could accommodate that space. This underscores the challenges that minority, small-business owners can encounter like access to capital, experience, expenses related to tradeshow presence, and a dearth of advocates.

“I do this because I’ve got to convince young people who don’t have what it takes, including the experience to weather this type of storm, whether that’s emotionally or financially,” she says. “So I’m trying to make sure that I continue to open doors for them.”