Are Energy Drinks in for the Long Haul?

May 9, 2017

America is running a serious deficit—in energy. And we’re not talking about the fossil-fuel kind, either. Judging by their purchasing habits, the nation’s consumers must be one groggy, discombobulated, not-particularly-motivated lot, because they’re rushing to energy-boosting products, from shakes and shots to pills, powders, and packaged snacks, for the vigor they lack and the sharper focus, improved performance—even that long-lost “youthful glow”—they crave.

This is a marked departure from the past, when energy was the province primarily of powerlifters and partygoers. But according to a 2015 Mintel (Chicago) report, energy’s core consumers, at least in the beverage space, may well be parents and maturing Millennials on the verge of parenthood. Which, on one hand, should come as little surprise, as toddler-chasing is an energy-intensive enterprise; not for nothing did Mintel find significantly higher rates of energy drink and shot consumption—58% and 48%, respectively—in households with children compared to those without (27% and 18%, respectively).

On the other hand, energy products—and energy drinks in particular—have caught flack not just for outrageous and unsubstantiated claims, but for the genuine health and safety threats that can accompany their irresponsible or excessive use.

So some wonder if the energy market can sustain its appeal amongst its expanding audience. As Michael Crabtree, technical sales manager, Bioenergy Life Sciences Inc. (Ham Lake, MN), says, “The energy market without doubt is one of the most critical markets in the dietary supplement industry, and consumers want options that meet their needs.” But with any energy product, he says, the “main point” remains the safe and efficient delivery of energy-boosting ingredients—“which always plays well with the consumer.”


Firing on All Cylinders

Energy really is a major driver for the supplement industry writ large. According to a 2015 BCC Research report, the global market for sports nutrition and high-energy supplements hit $37.5 billion in 2014 and looks set to approach $66.0 billion by 2020, holding its compound annual growth rate (CAGR) at 10.1% through the end of this decade. What’s more, the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s (CRN; Washington, DC) latest Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements revealed a first last year: the desire for energy clinched the number-two spot among consumers’ motivations for taking supplements in the first place, pulling ahead of their need to fill nutrient gaps.

This checks out with Chase Hagerman, brand director, Chemi Nutra (Austin, TX), who believes that energy “is a very easy functional category to sell, the main reason being that it’s perhaps the most tangible function that’s offered. It’s well known that in today’s hectic, always-connecting world, too many of us are overworked and under-rested. A natural solution to coping is to ramp up the energy.”

Those weary consumers’ concept of “energy” is broadening, stretching beyond the capacity to do physical work to encompass mental stamina, too—which is just as liable to flag under stress as is its bodily counterpart. As Karen Hecht, PhD, technical marketing specialist, AstaReal Inc. (Bellevue, WA), notes, “We draw on our reservoirs of energy for both physical and mental tasks that require concentration and coordination.” When our reservoirs run low, “we feel a lack of motivation, a mental fog, and body heaviness.” And who has time for that?


New Patrons

Fewer of us than ever. Which explains why today’s market for energy is so diverse. “The ‘new’ energy consumer runs the gamut from parents trying to keep up with their kids to weekend warriors seeking a boost at the gym to seniors looking to remain active,” says Jeff Lind, vice president, sales and marketing, Natreon Inc. (New Brunswick, NJ).

But energy’s real engine is the Millennial generation, particularly its older members. “The truth is, Millennials have always been, and still are, the dominant consumers in the energy category,” says Brian Zapp, director of marketing, Applied Foods Sciences Inc. (Austin, TX). Citing Mintel data, he notes that 67% of males and 47% of females between 18 and 34 consume energy drinks, making them “by far the largest consumer base.”

Factors speaking to this generation include “building trust, telling your story, and turning them into true believers,” Zapp continues, adding that Millennials “care about things like sustainability, while taking pride in choosing natural and organic” products. That push has spurred a boom in new energy platforms that aren’t just “cleaner,” but are more appealing and easier to use, as well.


New Platforms

Indeed, says Crabtree, “Energy is a huge driver on the consumer side, so—correspondingly—it’s a huge driver on the innovation side.” Though beverages and traditional oral supplements remain the “dominant delivery methods,” he says, “with the recent scrutiny attached to stimulant-based energy drinks due to the adverse effects historically associated with them, alternative delivery methods are seeing more traffic.” Those beverages—along with energy bars—may “always be staples,” he notes, “but a market reorientation is inevitable.”

Where that reorientation takes product development is the next question. As far as Zapp is concerned, “Some interesting and exciting newer delivery systems we’ve seen are stir sticks and straws, lick strips, mints, and even chocolate chews.” He’s keeping his eye on the tech space, too, where emerging formats let consumers “customize their energy input through smart bottles and other proprietary technology.”

“One application I’m particularly fond of,” notes Hagerman, “is gummies.” So fond is he that his company partnered with a gummy maker to produce a line formulated with Chemi Nutra’s AlphaSize alpha-glyceryl phosphoryl choline (A-GPC). Popular as a sports-nutrition pre-workout energizer, the ingredient has a mode of action that’s “pretty easy to understand,” Hagerman says. A-GPC increases the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is involved in the “mind-to-muscle” connection between the central and peripheral nervous systems—or, as Hagerman says, “Just think of it like caffeinating the neurons.” He believes gummies are the “ideal delivery mechanism” for the ingredient’s flavorless profile, and likes that they “provide a fun sensory experience with myriad flavors and mouthfeels, yet are also compact, portable, and ready to consume.”

Just as convenient are Essential Mints, from VitaThinQ Inc. (Davie, FL). As Donald M. Choi, the company’s president and founder, describes it, the product is a traditional mint, plus caffeine. Neither concept nor ingredient is new, but “the combination of the two makes this a unique caffeine resource,” he says. In cases where a full energy shot supplies too much caffeine—or is literally too much for the consumer to swallow—the mints’ “elegant delivery” allows the supplement to slip right into the bloodstream “through highly vascularized oral tissues,” he explains. The mint format also gives consumers dose control: each Energizing Peppermint contains 20 mg of caffeine, Choi says, making five equivalent to a single cup of coffee. Put another way, one tin, with 1,600 mg of caffeine (not recommended for consuming in one sitting, of course), equals 16 cups of coffee, eight 5-Hour Energy shots, 10 Monster drinks, or 46 cans of Coca-Cola.


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