From the gym to gaming to a business idea

Playing video games was supposed to pass time until the pandemic ended and gyms opened back up. Then Jon Elms, a fitness coach, created an energy drink company for gym rats and gamers alike that is expanding beyond Kalamazoo after some help from another local business owner.

Jon Elms says the COVID-19 pandemic was indirectly responsible for him becoming an entrepreneur.

Elms, 34, who lives in Kalamazoo with his wife, Emma, and 2-year-old daughter, Piper, saw his primary source of income as a fitness coach shrink from 40-to-50 hours a week to about five hours of online programming.

“COVID happened and all of the gyms in town closed,” he says.

Elms turned to video games “to fill the time,” not anticipating it to be a source of income, or that esports had become so popular since his gaming days a decade ago as a student at Saginaw Valley State University.

In his research on esports, Elms said he found that dedicated gamers frequently hire personal trainers to help them stay in good physical shape, like fitness buffs he worked with. “Aerobic health helps you respond,” he says.

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He also discovered that gamers frequently consume energy drinks while they are playing, but many of those drinks, Elms says, are high in sugar content.

“There’s a market here for a healthier energy drink that’s aimed toward gamers,” he recalls thinking. “That’s when I started researching energy drinks.”

But first he needed to do away with all the sugar and the lingering aftertaste.

Elms says his goal was to create something people could enjoy while relaxing, or to hydrate themselves while working out. “What I’m looking to do is provide a healthier option.”

“I’m a fan,” says Dan Kastner, who owns Factory Coffee in Kalamazoo and assisted Elms in the development of Loot Energy, a Kalamazoo-based drink that is shipped to online customers from coast-to-coast. “My big hurdle for other energy drinks was the medicinal, chemical aftertaste and we worked very hard to make sure that was not (the case with) Loot,” he says.

For Loot Energy, Elms settled on stevia, a natural sweetener and sugar substitute, combined with carbonated water, natural flavoring (right now it only comes in lemon lime), caffeine, and vitamins. It contains no electrolytes or calories.

Based on further research on what would make a good energy drink he came up with a naturally flavored, carbonated drink powered by caffeine, sweetened with stevia, and containing Vitamins B2, B3, B6, B12, C, and D.

a promotional photo of a can of Loot Energy and slices of lemons and limes
Courtesy Koreena Hemker

He then turned to Kastner, who had experience producing canned beverages.

”We had done a canned beverage line (at Factory Coffee) during COVID — cold brew and latte,” Kastner says. “Jon came to me talking about wanting to do the energy drink, so I basically filled in the gaps.”

That included introducing Elms to GLCC Co., a flavoring enterprise in Paw Paw. Over several months, GLCC developed different combinations of the ingredients until it arrived at a taste that met Elms’ approval.

“We did a lot of tasting together of a lot of different varieties,” Kastner says. Elms says he is continuing to work with GLCC for new flavors for Loot Energy. In the works are wild berry, orange, and blue raspberry.

Kastner also put Elms in touch with Proper Beverage in Hudsonville, which mixes the ingredients, tests for impurities, cans it, and sends it to Elms for distribution.

“It has minimal ingredients, which is always a plus,” says registered dietician and nutritionist Morgan Aleman, who with her husband, Cruz, also a registered dietician, taste-tested Loot Energy for Elms. “The less process the better — and using more natural ingredients — and I think these hit the margin for that.

“It’s a great source of caffeine, especially in the afternoon when you’re feeling sluggish.”

Elms registered Loot Energy (the name comes from the fortune-hunting video game Apex Legends in which “you have to find your loot,” he says) as a limited liability company a year and a half ago.

He is currently doing all the marketing and distribution himself.

Elms says Loot Energy is available at 14 locations in the Kalamazoo area, including gyms, gaming-related facilities, grocers and even a chiropractic office.

He says the most popular outlets are Raw Strength, a Kalamazoo gym, and The Broken Sword, a retail store for gamers in Plainwell.

“Both of my demographics — the gamer and health and fitness,” he says.

Kastner says Loot also has been popular at both of his Factory Coffee locations.

“Folks like it,” he says. “We sell a ton of it. Nothing but positive reviews.”

Elms also sells Loot Energy online with customers in several states, from Massachusetts to California, he says.

Nonalcoholic drinks, including energy drinks, are rising in popularity according to market analysts. NielsenIQ reports a rise in sales that has steadily grown for the past years. A trend Elms says he was unaware of when he started, “I think people in general now are trying to be healthier.”

He says the target age for Loot Energy is 18-to-40-year-olds, which includes Millennials like himself and the beginning of Gen Z.

“I was the very beginning generation of energy drinks,” he says. “I think that’s going to increase with the younger generations.”

You can find Loot Energy at the following locations:

Bangkok Flavor
Benny’s DiCarta’s
Factory Coffee – Frank St and Downtown
Harding’s (Centre Ave)
Hope Chiropractic
Hotworx Portage
Kalamazoo Athletic Wellness
LVL UP Gaming Lounge
Midtown Fresh
Odyssey Games
One on One Fitness Equipment
PFC Kalamazoo
Raw Strength
The Broken Sword
Uncle Lee’s Barbershop
Voss Media Board Game and Cafe

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