New product is due to slide out of lab soon
Max Jarman, The Arizona Republic, August 9, 2006
Arizona is known for golf, copper, semiconductors and prickly pear cactus jelly.
If entrepreneurial chemist Gary Kehoe has his way, it also will be known for personal lubricants.
Kehoe, who built chewing-gum maker Gum Tech International Inc. into a $25 million company, is preparing to launch an all-natural lubricant oriented toward women. advertisement
Kehoe's group has spent $750,000 developing the product, Carrageenan, which is named for its principal ingredient, a gel-like substance extracted from seaweed.
Carrageenan is used as a thickener in everything from ice cream to shampoo to shoe polish, but according to Kehoe its lubricating properties may be its biggest advantage. In addition to being naturally viscous and slippery, carrageenan is thixotropic. That means it thins under pressure and regains its viscosity when the pressure is released.
"It pumps easily and then stays where you put it," Kehoe said.
Carrageenan also has shown promise in laboratory studies as a possible inhibitor of human papilloma viruses, particularly the types that cause cervical cancer and genital warts. Its potential for preventing herpes and HIV infections is being studied under grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Kehoe can't use any such claims in his marketing, but if they are proved, his product will be well positioned to capitalize on them.
"K-Y will be saying 'with carrageenan' and we will be Carrageenan," Kehoe said.
Personal lubrication is a $130 million-a-year industry in the United States. Kehoe said it is growing at 8 percent per year and is dominated by a handful of products such as K-Y and Astroglide. But it's not a subject many people feel comfortable talking about, and so far marketing has been subtle.
Kehoe wants to change that with a national advertising campaign that will position Carrageenan as a mainstream product with the slogan "Love with Care."
Kehoe has been eager to launch a new product since he and several key Gum Tech executives went to work for the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. after it bought Gum Tech's chewing-gum business for $25 million in 2001.
While at Wrigley, Kehoe helped launch a line of chewing gum with dental benefits and several other products.
He and his former Gum tech colleagues set up a business, Dreamspan Product Innovation, to provide product development, marketing and other services to entrepreneurs.
The business helped Innozen Inc. of Woodland Hills, Calif., launch Suppress Cough Strips and is working on a line of nutrient waters called NU20 for a Scottsdale company.
"We relied heavily on science to develop our beverage," said Steve Nickolas, president of XND Technologies, developer of NU20 water. "The Dreamspan team was particularly well-suited to help us."
Dreamspan helped Nickolas with the product's formula, name, packaging and marketing. Dreamspan also suggested that XND register its product as a soft drink instead of bottled water, which carries more stringent licensing requirements.
"They saved us a ton of money," Nickolas said.
But Kehoe wanted to launch a new product of his own.
While at Gum Tech, now Matrixx Initiatives Inc., Kehoe helped develop the Zicam line of cold remedies that is now Matrixx's main focus.
"Launching a new product is kind of like birth," Kehoe said. "You bring something new to life. It's very exciting."
Carrageenan is sold at Bashas' supermarkets, but Kehoe believes it will be in stores nationwide after the Efficient Consumer Response Management Inc. skin-care show at the Phoenician resort this month. Kehoe plans to introduce Carrageenan at the show and says there already is considerable interest in his product.
"We have almost 50 presentations scheduled," he said.
Kehoe believes the market is ripe for Carrageenan.
He notes that drugs such as Viagra and Cialis are enabling men to have active sex lives later in life and that Carrageenan was developed with their wives and partners in mind. He got the idea for it based on the experience of his wife, who after menopause found sex uncomfortable.