About seven years ago, Eastsider Dan Haggart took up long-distance running and noticed that, at the end of half-marathons and marathons, many seasoned runners seemed to be doing something similar: They’d take out a bottle of tart cherry concentrate, pour it into their water bottles, and drink it.

“I asked them what that was all about, and they said that it was the only way to get your muscles to recover,” Haggart said.

Drinking tart cherry concentrate, it turns out, is a tried-and-true practice among athletes that Haggart was just becoming privy to. Montmorency tart cherries, one of the most-researched fruits, is believed to have the highest anti-inflammatory content of any food, which speeds muscle recovery and eases pain.

To boot, this little superfood has been shown to improve endurance performance, regulate blood sugar, improve gut health, and more.

Having become aware of the powerful fruit and the way athletes were already taking advantage of it, Haggart had a light-bulb moment.

“This entrepreneurial bug bit me, and I thought, ‘Instead of taking the concentrate and putting it in the water bottle, somebody should be able to make this into a ready-to-drink product,’” he said.

Not long after, he founded Bellevue-based CHERRiSH, a company that produces all-natural, no-sugar-added, ready-to-consume recovery drinks, each of which is made up of 96 cherries. Over time, the flavor profile of the drink shifted to make it less tart — the natural flavor of the Montmorency cherry — by blending it with sweet bing cherries.

“It has to be 100 percent pure cherry juice to get all the benefits,” Haggart said. “We started doing some testing with Brunswick Labs out of Boston and actually found that a 50/50 blend between sweet and tart cherries was the most powerful mix for lowering inflammation and giving you faster muscle recovery. It’s really a unique blend.”

What started out as that original observation and idea soon grew into a product trusted by both consumers and myriad professional sports teams.

“After we had developed the ready-to-drink product, we started selling it directly to college sports teams — UCLA, USC, University of Washington, all the PAC-12,” Haggart said. “And then we sold it to the National Football League, the Seahawks, the 49ers. The NBA teams, the U.S. Olympic team, and the NFL teams — almost all of them carry it.”

Haggart said that with those partnerships, teams will buy the product and then give it to the athletes for free. CHERRiSH also has partnerships with athlete ambassadors, or influencers, who endorse the product on social media to drive business.

After much success operating in the professional sports industry, the company decided about two years ago to try to break into the retail space as well. Doing so has proved successful — CHERRiSH has accounts with Safeway and QFC — and also has allowed for continued success in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

“When the teams stopped playing earlier this year, that obviously cut into our revenue stream rather heavily,” Haggart said. “But the powerful thing about our products is that they also have properties that boost your immune system. So, we’ve shifted from advertising as a muscle recovery drink to an immune system boost.”

Haggart said that, since this shift was made in messaging, retails sales have risen dramatically, both in store and online through Amazon, where he said CHERRiSH sells 100 to 150 cases per day. The layered crises created by the pandemic also has led CHERRiSH to partner with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — currently in Louisiana, but with plans to expand to New York, Boston, and Hawaii. FEMA was looking for a healthy juice with no fillers added to boost people’s immune systems, according to Haggart, so CHERRiSH negotiated a discounted price to the disaster-relief agency.

“We started off shipping a full truckload of product a week, which is 3,000 cases or 36,000 bottles,” Haggart said. “Now it’s two to three trucks a week.”

As for similar products on the market, Haggart said that it’s common to see tart cherry juice cut with something like apple juice, which sweetens the flavor while also cutting costs — a cut in quality that CHERRiSH works hard to avoid. There are still successful concentrate products like the ones he first saw athletes pouring into their water bottles at the end of a long race, Haggart said, but the purpose of CHERRiSH is to provide highly effective and easy-to-drink cherry juice.

And in that sense, Haggart said, “I do think
we dominate the market.”