July 2, 2013

More drinks offer 'clean' energy

Companies use natural caffeine and organic ingredients to appeal to the health-conscious.

By MICHAEL HILL/The Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. – Energy drinks are busting out of the convenience store cooler and into the health food aisle.

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Bottles of Runa energy drink line a shelf at Dean’s Natural Foods store in Albany, N.Y. Runa’s hit the shelves recently around the country, boasting caffeine from the guayusa “super leaf.” It supposedly provides as much caffeine as coffee, with more anti-oxidants than green tea.

Photos by The Associated Press

click image to enlarge

Guru says its 8.4-ounce can has 125 milligrams of “naturally occurring” caffeine. That’s a higher concentration than energy drinks like Monster that have 160 milligrams per 16-ounce can.

As energy drink sales soar like a caffeine-fueled rocket, more drinks are promoting organic ingredients, added juices, natural caffeine and so-called "clean" energy. A jolt from Rockstar not your speed? There's the "natural energy drink" Guru, and Steaz Energy, which according to the can is "good for the mind, body and soul." Or there's Runa's energy drink, made from something called Amazonian guayusa leaves.

Claims of cleaner caffeine boosts come as energy drinks find themselves under increasing scrutiny, particularly for their effects on children and adolescents. The word "organic" in front of "energy drink" might seem as incompatible as yoga pants with a backward tractor cap, but analysts say that as the market for energy drinks grows, it's diversifying too.

"I think we're going to see more beverages that offer energy functionality, but in non-traditional energy drinks," said John Sicher, publisher of Beverage Digest.

Energy drink sales hit $12.6 billion last year, representing a 14 percent jump from 2008, according to market research firm Packaged Facts. While Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar still dominate the U.S. market, part of the recent growth comes from new kinds of products, including diet and natural energy drinks.

Even the big players are getting into the act. Campbell Soup Co.'s venerable V8 line of drinks now includes a canned V-Fusion + Energy drink made with juice and green tea. And Starbucks sells fruit-flavored Refreshers made with unroasted coffee beans.

"Because retailers are devoting more shelf space to energy drinks, there's always a battle among the competitors within the sector. So what you're seeing within the energy drink category is an innovation in products," said John Lennon, president of Xyience, which makes Xenergy energy drinks.

But with growth comes greater scrutiny.

Regulators have been increasingly concerned about caffeinated products, particularly energy drinks. The Food and Drug Administration in April said it would investigate the safety of caffeine added to snacks and gum and its effects on children and adolescents. The FDA said last year it was investigating reports of deaths linked to energy drinks. The federal agency has said they would take action if they could link the deaths to consumption of the drinks, including forcing the companies to take the products off the market.

In May, San Francisco's city attorney sued Monster Beverage for marketing its energy drinks to children. The lawsuit came after Monster sued City Attorney Dennis Herrera over his demands that the company reduce caffeine levels in its drinks and stop marketing to minors.

At least on face value, some of the natural drinks seem to be aiming for a different audience. Xenergy calls itself the "energy drink of the health club, not the nightclub." The company expanded its line this year to include energy drinks with tea or lemonade.

Ray Jolicoeur, vice president of marketing for Guru, says consumers of his product, which has been available in the United States since 2005, tend to be slightly more mature and educated. The entrepreneurs behind Runa say they are not looking for people who want "head throbbing, punched-in-the face energy" like some other brands.

"Some of them went after adrenaline junkies, others went after NASCAR fans," said Runa co-founder Dan MacCombie. "For us, it's just part of the people who are already ... being careful about what they are putting into their bodies."

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