The push for clean energy products

Nutritional OutlookNutritional Outlook Vol. 27 No. 5
Volume 27
Issue 5

Energy products and as a result, caffeine, remain huge sellers, but consumers are increasingly interested in “clean” sources of energy.

Oleksandr -

Oleksandr -

As a product category, energy is a mainstay. The king of the energy category is of course caffeine. According to data from SPINS, based on the 52 weeks ending February 25, 2024, sales of caffeine grew 28% to $3 billion, compared to the previous year. Within the energy and hydration beverage categories, caffeine sales grew 27% compared to the year before. While consumers are clearly engaging with caffeine as an energy source, many are also becoming more cognizant of the type of caffeine they consume.

“Energy I think is evolving to be more[about] natural energy; less about the caffeine boost or crash and burn feeling, but looking at alternate sources of energy ingredients,” says Nicole Staniec, vice president of beverage products at Virginia Dare (Carteret, NJ). “So, it may be caffeine from something like green tea or coffee or just other ingredients that give more of a sustained energy feeling.”

Caffeine can have some negative connotations, where some people feel jitters, irritability, and may even have trouble sleeping. This can depend on genetic or environmental variables in which some people metabolize caffeine at a slower rate. Caffeine is metabolized in the liver by the isozyme, CYP1A2. There are three major metabolites that caffeine is broken down into: paraxanthine, theobromine, and theophylline. Paraxanthine is the primary metabolite, accounting for 80% of caffeine biotransformation, while theobromine and theophylline account for 11% and 5%, respectively.1

The activity of CYP1A2 can depend on genetics, with some people having lower activity, and therefore slower metabolism of caffeine. That means it takes longer for it to leave their bodies, resulting in negative side effects, particularly if they consume caffeine in excess. Because the downstream metabolites are staying in the body for longer, slow metabolizers are more susceptible to some of their negative effects. Metabolites such as theophylline, for example, have been associated with negative side effects like nausea, diarrhea, and tachycardia.2

On the other hand, the metabolite paraxanthine has been shown to have less toxicity and anxiogenic effects than caffeine. Therefore, as a supplement, paraxanthine is being touted as a “clean energy” alternative to caffeine. One brand of paraxanthine that is currently on the market is called enfinity, which is being distributed by TSI Group (Missoula, MT).

“The beauty of paraxanthine is that we can get that same stimulant effect, but it doesn’t come with the extra baggage of the other metabolites,” explains Shawn Baier, vice president of business development at TSI Group. “The tagline that’s been out there around enfinity has been ‘caffeine evolved,’ because it really is the value that we want out of caffeine, without those side effects that we don’t really care for, and so many people are looking for alternatives for.”

The ideal of clean energy encompasses an overall desire for healthier alternatives. “I would say the energy beverage is…starting to move away from the high sugar, high calorie [beverages] which were very typical of the 1st generation of energy beverages,” says Staniec. “I think people are being more mindful of health and their sugar intake, their carbohydrate intake, [and] are looking for alternate beverages that are lower in sugar while still giving them some of the energy effect.”

According to Innova Market Insights, there was a 21% growth in clean energy drink options between 2019 and 2023. What this means is that more brands are making an effort to market products that utilize caffeine from natural source such as green tea or coffee, in addition to other energy promoting ingredients such as ginseng. Consumers are also just turning back to coffee and tea as healthier alternatives to canned energy beverages which may be seen as artificial, sugar-laden, and overall unhealthy. Many of these clean energy products also tout claims of no crash or jitters, which appeals to consumers with a history of negative caffeine side effects.

“I think because the caffeine is naturally part of [products like coffee or tea] it’s considered a more natural way to get energy than added caffeine, synthetic caffeine that comes in a canned energy beverage,” says Staniec. “So, I think consumers who are looking for that kind of caffeine boost can take a caffeinated tea or caffeinated coffee product and get that energy, and it feels to a consumer [to be] more natural”

Energy claims are also growing in the functional food space. According to data from SPINS, within functional foods, sales of caffeine grew by 446% compared to the previous year. That’s It, for example, makes an energy bar that use caffeine from coffee to deliver an equivalent of one espresso shot worth of caffeine. Here, the idea of clean caffeine is also paramount.

“On our packaging, we highlight caffeine from coffee because we prioritize clean, simple ingredients in everything we create. All our snacks contain six ingredients or less, and we avoid artificial colors, dyes, and flavors,” says Lior Lewensztain, MD, founder and CEO of That’s It. “Recognizing that many energy drinks contain synthetic ingredients, including caffeine, we wanted to emphasize that our Energy line adheres to the same commitment to simplicity and natural sourcing. By using caffeine from coffee, we maintain the integrity of our clean ingredient philosophy while providing a natural energy boost.”

According to That’s It, consumers are also well informed. “They are more discerning, paying attention to both the front and back of packaging for ingredient information,” explains Lewensztain. “Consumers are demanding more transparency and authenticity, looking to avoid fillers and ambiguous terms like ‘natural flavors’ often hidden on the back of packaging – especially those who are managing a food allergy or intolerance.”

As a result, clean energy products need to be clean all around. Most consumers looking for clean energy won’t accept artificial flavors or sweeteners. Clean energy provides a point of differentiation in an established and saturated market.


  1. Willson, C. The clinical toxicology of caffeine: A review and case study. Toxicol Rep. 2018, 5, 1140-1152. DOI: 10.1016/j.toxrep.2018.11.002
  2. Okuro, M.; Fujiki, N.; Kotorii, N.; Ishimaru, Y.; Sokoloff, P.; Nishino, S. Effects of Paraxanthine and Caffeine on Sleep, Locomotor Activity, and Body Temperature in Orexin/Ataxin-3 Transgenic Narcoleptic Mice. Sleep. 2010, 33 (7), 930-942. DOI:10.1093/sleep/33.7.930
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