Caffeine spreads to more categories

January 09, 2013

Food makers should use this substance judiciously and label it clearly to limit consumer surprise and risk.

Energy drinks, coffee, tea, soda and chocolate are five foods known for their caffeine content, so consumers can eat them or avoid them accordingly. The spread of caffeine to other categories concerns us at The Lempert Report.

Much has been written about the pros and cons of caffeine. On the plus side, various experts claim it raises mental alertness, focus, and physical endurance, and may even minimize the risk of stroke. On the con side, caffeine is a stimulant that can be addictive and that may reduce the body’s absorption of calcium; it may also dehydrate, raise anxiety and insomnia, and cause problems in pregnancy.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, “some people can experience caffeine intoxication symptoms…after ingesting as little as 100mg of caffeine per day,” reports WebMD, noting that symptoms at 1,000mg a day could include muscle twitching, rapid heartbeats, and abnormal electrical activity in the heart.

The Lempert Report sees the broad range of caffeine’s potential effects, and urges food makers to clearly label its caffeine content in obvious ways. We advise this because caffeine content ranges widely across beverage brands, and this could pose risk to unaware consumers who assume certain levels within a product type.  The FDA has associated energy drinks high in caffeine with deaths.

We also question the judiciousness of adding caffeine to products where it needn’t be, simply to push an “energy” claim. A buyer of coffee-flavored ice cream or frozen yogurt may anticipate caffeine, but it should be less expected in categories like gum, mints, juice smoothies, jelly beans, jerky and snack foods, which now also contain caffeine. Not surprisingly, it bothers us to see Frito-Lay advance this trend with the launch of Cracker Jack’D; this new version of the more-than-a-century-old Cracker Jack brand has varieties that contain coffee (with 70mg of caffeine from coffee per two-ounce package, USA Today reports).

In our opinion, as the snack aisle tries to get “healthier” with baked processes, olive oil and low-sodium varieties, the coffee product may actually distract from building that image.