(“A Jolt of Caffeine, by the Can,” NYTimes.com, November 23, 2005, — by Melanie Warner)
Excerpt relating to TaB Energy:
“A relative latecomer to the energy drink business, Coke is eager to become a much bigger player. In January, the company introduced Full Throttle, and last week it announced plans to revamp the 1970’s brand Tab, which has not been sold in any significant quantities in the last 20 years, as an energy drink aimed at women. It will also start selling a caffeinated version of its Powerade sports drink.”
Every day Tom Cabrera, a 27-year-old auto mechanic who lives in Middletown, R.I., drinks a can of SoBe No Fear energy drink on his way to work. Later in the day, if he goes to the gym, he downs another before his workout.
He says he probably could not get through the day without one. “It lifts me up. One minute I’m dragging and then it’s like ‘Pow!’ ” he said, widening his eyes.
Loyal and enthusiastic customers like Mr. Cabrera have helped propel caffeinated energy drinks into the fastest-growing sector of the $93 billion domestic beverage industry. Sales of energy drinks, which sell for $2 to $3 a can, have grown a torrid 61 percent this year in the United States, according to Beverage Digest.
Energy drinks, which have become a $3 billion business since their introduction in the United States eight years ago, are expected to accelerate profit growth for the beverage industry more than any other drink category in the next few years.
Sales of regular soda, meanwhile, are unchanged or declining in the United States and major markets around the world. “The energy drink category came out of nowhere,” said John Sicher, publisher of Beverage Digest. “It’s been a pleasant surprise for the industry.”
But that has scientists and nutritionists worried. Energy drinks have as much sugar and roughly three times the caffeine of soda, and some experts peg their popularity to their addictiveness. And with racy names like Full Throttle, Rockstar and Adrenaline Rush, critics say these drinks are fostering caffeine addiction among teenagers.
Caffeine can cause hyperactivity and restlessness among children and is known to increase the excretion of calcium, a mineral much needed while bones are still growing.
Energy drink manufacturers say they do not market to children and their products have no more caffeine than a typical cup of coffee. But the debate persists. Four countries have barred the sale of energy drinks with current levels of caffeine: France, Denmark, Norway and, two months ago, Argentina.
In the U.S., however, sales continue to surge. According to estimates that Coca-Cola executives presented to analysts this summer, the additional industrywide profits that will come from energy products in the four years from 2005 through 2008 will total $540 million, compared with $210 million for regular soft drinks, $130 million for bottled water and $290 million for sports drinks.
A relative latecomer to the energy drink business, Coke is eager to become a much bigger player. In January, the company introduced Full Throttle, and last week it announced plans to revamp the 1970’s brand Tab, which has not been sold in any significant quantities in the last 20 years, as an energy drink aimed at women. It will also start selling a caffeinated version of its Powerade sports drink.
This month, PepsiCo, which owns the SoBe No Fear and Adrenaline Rush brands through its 2001 acquisition of the South Beach Beverage Company, will start selling Mountain Dew MDX, an extra-caffeinated version of Mountain Dew.
Critics contend that much of the skyrocketing growth of energy drinks comes because consumers are getting physically addicted, either by consuming the concoctions daily or guzzling several at a time to elevate their mood.
Roland Griffiths, a professor of behavioral biology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says the amount of caffeine necessary to produce dependency and withdrawal symptoms is about 100 milligrams a day. A can of energy drink has 80 to 160 milligrams, depending on the size, though such information is not listed on any cans. An eight-ounce cup of coffee typically has 100 to 150 milligrams.
Some energy brands go so far as to promote their addictiveness as a selling point. “Meet your new addiction! 16 oz’s of super charged energy with advanced components and a great berry-passion fruit flavor,” reads the front page of Pepsi’s SoBe No Fear Web site. Cans of Kronik Energy, made by an Arizona company, warn customers, “Caution: May Be Psychologically Addicting,” meant as a daring come-on, not a serious warning.
Nutritionists say that while it may be fine for adults to have their dose of caffeine, they worry about children becoming hooked. “I suspect that busy, driven teenagers are grabbing one of these energy drinks instead of eating real food, which I would be concerned about,” said Lola O’Rourke, a registered dietitian in Seattle and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
Cans of SoBe, Monster, Rockstar and others carry a voluntary disclaimer, warning that the fizzy liquid inside is “not recommended for children, pregnant women or people sensitive to caffeine.”
But the definition of “children” is not always clear. Coke and Pepsi say they aim their products at those older than 20. Rodney C. Sacks, chief executive of the Hansen Natural Corporation, which sells the popular Monster brand, says that his product is appropriate for anyone over 13.
Tom Pirko, president of Bevmark, an industry consulting firm, says that while the primary consumers of energy drinks are men ages 20 to 30, the category definitely attracts younger users. “We know they skew down to 12 and 13,” he said. “You look at the claw of the monster on the can. When do kids start watching monster movies?”
In addition to caffeine, other purportedly energy-enhancing ingredients in energy drinks have attracted the attention of European health officials. When France banned Red Bull in 2000, health officials cited uncertainties about the interaction of caffeine, the amino acid taurine, and glucuronolactone, a type of sugar that is produced by human cells and used in metabolism.
Beverage companies say energy drinks have been safely consumed around the world for more than a decade and that such concerns are unfounded. But they acknowledge that there have been few studies looking at the particular combinations of these compounds. In addition to taurine and glucuronolactone, energy drinks have other unusual ingredients: guarana, a Brazilian herb that contains caffeine; inositol, a sugar alcohol; D-Ribose, another sugar used in metabolism; carnitine, arginine and creatine, three amino acids; and ginseng, an Asian herb said to have antioxidant benefits.
Red Bull, the Austrian company that makes the original energy drink, makes ambitious assertions about its particular blend of these ingredients. The company’s Web site boasts that Red Bull “improves performance, especially during times of increased stress or strain,” “increases concentration” and “stimulates the metabolism.”
Other manufacturers, however, are more circumspect in their claims. Mary Merrill, group director for sports and energy drinks at Coca-Cola, says the reason taurine, guarana, carnitine and ginseng are in Full Throttle is because customers want them there.
“Energy drinks contain ingredients that consumers have come to expect and want to see,” Ms. Merrill said. “We make no claims about any of them. We believe in marketing our brand by focusing on the brand’s personality, rather than the ingredients.”
Mr. Cabrera, the auto mechanic, says he likes it that his can of No Fear has strange-sounding ingredients, listed on the top of the can, but he admits he has no idea what taurine, creatine and arginine are.
Kristi Hinck, a spokeswoman for SoBe beverages, says that if consumers are curious about ingredients, they should do research. “We encourage people to do their homework and look it up,” she said. “It’s part of the whole mystique about energy drinks.”
Some scientists say this mystique amounts to little more than shrewd marketing of overpriced, caffeinated sugar water. “These are just caffeine delivery systems,” said Professor Griffiths at Johns Hopkins. “They’re being marketed cleverly to imply they have other ingredients that may be useful to some end.”
Henk Smit, a researcher in the department of experimental psychology at the University of Bristol in Britain, decided to test the effectiveness of energy drinks. In a study published in the medical journal Nutritional Neuroscience last year, Mr. Smit found that energy drinks were effective at improving mood and performance, but he concluded that caffeine was the crucial component.
“Any additional benefits of taurine, glucuronolactone or other ingredients are minimal compared to those of caffeine, and from what I know, are speculative at best for most of these ingredients,” he wrote in an e-mail message.
Mr. Sacks, the Hansen chief executive, takes issue with these findings. He says Monster is carefully made to deliver a smoother burst of energy than other forms of caffeine. “When you drink coffee you get jittery, agitated and fidgety,” he said. “Our experience is that you don’t get the same effect with an energy drink.”
Mr. Sacks says that if his aim were to simply get customers revved up on caffeine, he would have added more of it. “If I wanted to promote sales, I could have doubled the caffeine,” he said. “It’s a cheap ingredient relative to the others. Why would I spend dollars and dollars per case for these other ingredients when I could just put in 2 more cents and double the caffeine?”
It is these other, more expensive ingredients that allow manufacturers to charge $2 to $3 a can when a 20-ounce bottle of soda can be had for $1 to $1.50. And that, says Mr. Pirko of Bevmark, has everything to do with marketing. “You’re selling images to people who want to be powerful,” he said. “It’s a head trip.”
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