Caffeine sales kick comes with health concern

March 05, 2013

Energy drinks lead center-store growth, and caffeine finds its way into more categories.

Consumers seem hooked on caffeine—and SymphonyIRI Group data shows how enthusiastic they are for their hits.

Energy drinks top the list of 50 center-store categories tracked—up 18.7% in unit sales and 17.2% in dollar sales, over the 52 weeks ended Sept. 9, 2012 in multiple channels and convenience stores.   In second place, weight-loss and nutrition products rose 15.1% in units and 17.0% in dollars. In third, ready-to-drink coffees and teas gained 7.8% in units and 7.0% in dollars.  Also, coffee climbed 4.5% in units and 17.7% in dollars.

Center-store needs this sales shot—but there’s growing concern about the marketing of energy drinks to young people as a performance enhancer.  PBS cites a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that “visits to the emergency room because of energy drinks have doubled in recent years.”  And Dr. Roland Griffiths of John Hopkins Medicine told PBS one reason could be the encouragement of young, “caffeine-naïve” drinkers to “slam the can” vs. sipping a cup of coffee. “I’m most suspicious about caffeine being the bad agent,” he said, pushing for more labeling and education.

Health Canada isn’t taking the energy-drink trend calmly.  It imposed new rules in January limiting single-serve beverages to 180mg of caffeine, capping resealable bottles at 400mg per liter, and reclassifying energy drinks as food products (rather than natural health products) to come under these new rules, according to a New Hope Media report.

The Lempert Report would like to see energy-drink manufacturers be more transparent.  If they’re not, legislators will step in.  There are already efforts in Long Island, NY, to end free samples to minors, impose an age restriction on purchases, and “limit sales of shot-like drinks with higher caffeine and stimulant levels,” Newsday reports.

Indeed, a social media study by Semantelli found that 4% of conversations involved consumers drinking a combination of two energy drinks at a time.  The most popular: Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy (74%).

The challenges of managing caffeine may soon mount, as the stimulant makes its way into other categories beyond energy drinks, coffee, tea and chocolate.  Frito-Lay has launched Cracker Jack’d Power Bites with caffeine, following the steps of Kraft (MioEnergy) and Jelly Belly (Extreme Sports Beans).