Sour power: Entrepreneur teams up with Cornell food scientists to create sports drink using tart cherries

John Davey quit his job as a Wall Street banker to work with food scientists at Cornell University to create an all-natural, restorative sports drink using sour cherries. Now he's launched his own food company.

Among the first customers: the New York Rangers, who are hitting the cherry juice after every game and workout.

Davey worked with Cornell food scientist Olga Padilla-Zakour, who directs the Food Venture Center (FVC) at Cornell's New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, to develop the all-natural tart cherry juice called, like the company, CherryPharm. The shelf-stable drink retains what are believed to be the pain-prevention and muscle-damage recovery powers of sour cherries.

The fortifying effects of sour cherries used in CherryPharm are thought to be the result of phyto-nutrients and anti-oxidants like anthocyanin, melatonin and quercetin that occur naturally and in high proportion in deeply colored fruits -- particularly, in tart cherries. It is not a hydration drink, Davey emphasized. "It is a preventative and a restorative."

FVC provides entrepreneurs with expertise and regulatory assistance in developing value-added food products. Working with Davey, scientists developed a proprietary not-from-concentrate blend of tart cherry and apple juice.

"When John approached us, the goal was to retain the natural properties of the fresh tart cherries and have a product with great taste and convenience for consumers," said Padilla-Zakour, associate professor of food science and technology. "When we started out, the only alternative was cherry concentrate that had inconsistent quality, poor taste and required mixing with water by the consumer."

The claims for sour cherry juice are based on research by Padilla-Zakour, Malachy McHugh, director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma, and Declan Connolly, associate professor and director of the University of Vermont's Human Performance Lab. Their research, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in June, showed strength loss was 22 percent with a placebo versus only 4 percent with the cherry juice. Trainers of athletes who have tried the drink say it works. "The New York Rangers have integrated the proven benefits of CherryPharm's all-natural juice into the lives of our players -- we feel less sore, sleep better and recover faster," said Rangers' medical trainer Jim Ramsay.

CherryPharm hopes athletes at Cornell also will benefit from the muscle restorative properties of "big red juice" and is in discussion with the Cornell athletics department about its use.

CherryPharm is buying Montmorency cherries from Pro-Fac Cooperative Inc. (a grower-cooperative in Rochester, N.Y.), and is setting up a microprocessing and research and development facility in the new Cornell Agriculture and Food Technology Park in Geneva. They have hired a former Cornell graduate student in food science, Sarah Valois, as director of product development.

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Blaine Friedlander