Inside the energy drink machine

From the online forum Shaping Youth, this post, which exposes all stakes involved, both for the industry, and for our youth -to whom these new kinds of sodas are marketed to:

Two new industry reports today show soda’s rate of decline has tripled since last year. BUT (there’s always a “but”) the marketing machine has replaced the churn with energy jolts of caffeine, sports drinks of sodium and sugar, and ready-to-drink (RTD) teas and coffees.

“Who wants to be seen with a ‘cola’ when Frappuccino is available. And Fruit 20. And Snapple Green Tea with EGCG. And Red Bull. And…whaddya call that stuff nobody used to drink when it was free? Oh, yeah…Water,” quipped Ad Age columnist Bob Garfield.

As fickle folks flock to the next big ‘thang’ Shaping Youth is working hard to ‘idiot proof’ the media messages so parents and kids can discern the caffeine con from the get go, especially with all the unregulated ‘dietary supplements’ and wacky health claims coming onto the scene.

Shaping Youth anticipated kids being blitzed with ‘functional food’ claims of ‘healthier junk’ early on which is why we started counter-marketing sports drinks in 2005, energy drinks in 2006, and ALL ‘performance’ enhanced beverages in 2007 to open kids’ eyes to how industry changes the lens of the scope, while keeping kids in the crosshairs of their target marketing.

Functional claims and dietary supplements are ‘fuzzy’ at best. Products using words like “science blended” and “herbally enhanced” are not remotely regulated by the FDA. One MD has a concise overview called Quack Watch which pops the top on supplements. And CSPI’s “Functional foods: Public health boon or 21st century quackery?” goes deeper into the background.

I double-dog-dare you to TRY to sort out the acronym-laden governmental guidelines of the NLEA, DSHEA, FDA, to see if they’re GRAS or not. (GRAS=”generally recognized as safe”—you get my drift)

This is why I find functional claims to be even more damaging than blatantly bogus ones.

It’s much easier for me to “red flag” key watch words to kids than to deconstruct the elaborate ‘greenwashing,’ nutritional benefits, new age cure-alls and health claims being paraded out in these ‘better for you’ energy concoctions.

Sports and energy drinks are often pumped up as ‘healthier hydration.’ (yet some have the opposite effect since they’re chock full of sodium & sugar; the higher the sugar the slower the absorption and dehydration risk)

They’re sniped with banners of “vitamins, nutrients, calcium fortification” and all kinds of exotic herbal supplements from gingko biloba and ginseng to guarana, the Brazilian, natural plant stimulant akin to caffeine.

Then they’re poured into kids with aspirational marketing using athletes, celebs, and ‘active lifestyle’ packaging.

Here’s the new C1.5 energy drink from the NBA’s Carmelo Anthony that debuted just in time for the All-Stars in Vegas a few weeks ago. Sheesh.

When you figure half the market growth is in this realm, you KNOW where the money’s gonna land as everyone and his uncle comes out with their own version. (yes, even dead rock icons)

I get hyper just hearing the descriptors of “shooters, zips, shots, fizzes, spikes and tonics” that jack up the ‘need’ and zing the newest health craze into kids’ growing, youthful bods.

Beverage Marketing Corp’s CEO confirmed, “Beverages offering functional benefits are growing two to three times faster than conventional refreshment beverages.”

For perspective, though, the big kahuna is STILL soda.

Even after sliding 1.1% it still commands almost 51% of the overall beverage market…all four of the fastest-growing segments still make up just 7.8% of total volume.

Energy drinks grew 49% (to a measly 0.8% share) followed by ready-to-drink teas, which surged 26.2% compared with 9% in 2005, sports drinks grew 11.7% and ready-to-drink coffees grew 10.4%. Interesting.

Seems to me, they’re literally slapping the word ‘energy’ on a label, tossing in a few functional claims, a wee bit of juice or some clever packaging to spike sales without venturing too far away from soda at all…

It’s now ‘healthy soda.’

Example? 7UpPlus. Is the public REALLY this naïve? Um, guess so.

Why else would the giants be rushing to bring new “vitamin-fortified soft drinks” to market, like “Diet Coke Plus” or PepsiCo’s “Tava” (due later this year) in a desperate attempt to put some fizz into flat sales of carbonated soft-drinks?!

Diet Coke Plus will contain niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, magnesium and zinc. Tava will contain vitamins B3, B6 and E, and chromium.

Geez. Grab some leafy greens and call it a day, megadoses of vitamin B are unproven and controversial.

In the monster category of ‘performance’ energy drinks with ‘ergogenic aids’, you’d fail to pass the International Olympic Committee piddle test in a red hot minute. Nevertheless, they’re big…and energy drink vending machines are next.

In 2007 alone, we’ve already seen some pretty toxic fallout of energy drinks as marketers crank out a new brand at the rate of about one a day.

Many are lured by the pitch to make a healthier choice without bothering to see ‘all energy drinks are NOT created equal, and some contain copious quantities of caffeine with adverse effects on kids health…fouling up sleep, creating anxiety, even bed wetting.

Some fall in the “hardcore” caffeine category like the new Spike Shooter targeting teens with ‘six times the kick’ in a ‘bad to the bone’ heavy metal ‘Get Spiked’ campaign that’s already hurt six high school kids making the news in Colorado.

Science Blogs breaks down the “so what” factor by explaining the 300 mg of caffeine that most likely led to the kids’ heart palpitations, nausea and shortness of breath.

Their PhD Pharmacologist also gives a heads up on the dangers of blending caffeine with sympathomimetics like ephedrine, making note of the mortality cases from weight loss supplements that led to the US ditching that drug altogether.

We’re doing a related interview with poison control on teen’s use of energy drinks and alcohol since they’re seeing surges of toxicity among the Red Bull & Vodka set.

Aside from being ‘wide awake drunks’ kids are making impaired decisions ‘feeling’ more sober than they really are and getting behind the wheel…Killer combo, literally.
Read full entry here.

Here is a nutrition info sheet on Energy Drinks from the Department of Nutrition, University of California, Davis.

From, the news that Miller, Anheuser-Busch May Be Illegally Targeting Teens with Energy Drinks containing alcohol.

Last, examines how beverages with artificial sweeteners react with alcohol: The low-carb-dieting craze has led to an increased consumption of diet beverages being used in mixed alcoholic drinks. Premixed alcoholic drinks were usually made with sugar-sweetened beverages like juice and soda. The presence of sugar was thought to decrease the rapidity with which alcohol would empty from the stomach and get absorbed in the small intestines, but nothing was known about how artificial sweeteners would impact the absorption of alcohol.

A recent study examined the difference in blood alcohol levels from drinks containing sweetened (regular) versus artificially sweetened (diet) beverages. This study found a significant difference in blood alcohol levels between the two drinks. In fact, the "diet" beverage produced blood alcohol levels that would be considered illegal for driving in many jurisdictions, while comparable quantities of the "regular" beverage did not. This poses a potentially dangerous situation, and it is clear that there should be separate guidelines for the safe consumption of artificially sweetened alcoholic beverages.

A very complex machine indeed. Hopefully regulations will catch up soon with the beverage industry's marketing.


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