Energy drinks boom but come under fire

US sales of energy drinks rose 400% since 2003 to a value of $4.8 billion, according to Mintel's latest report on this market.

Numbers of energy drink consumers have grown quickly, too. In 2003, only 9% of adult respondents to Mintel's survey said they drank energy drinks. In 2008, 15% imbibed.

Not surprisingly, teens picked up on energy drinks even faster. The same survey of teenagers revealed 35% regularly consumed energy drinks, up from 19% in 2003.

"Energy drinks have quickly become a daily beverage choice," said Krista Faron, senior new product analyst at Mintel. "As more Americans use energy drinks, we've seen a rise in products being launched with innovative new ingredients, claims and consumer targets."

Mintel's Global New Products Database tracked just 80 new US energy drink launches in 2003. But in 2007, the firm tracked 187 and already in 2008, it has seen more than 270 new energy drinks launched in the US.

With energy drinks becoming more commonplace, Mintel said it expected the concept to expand beyond the aluminum can. "Energy bars are familiar to many Americans," said Faron. "But other energised foods, such as candy, chips, milk and cereal, are definitely not. We expect the concept of energy—both physical and mental—to greatly influence food product development."

The huge growth in energy drinks has not come without controversy, however. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have called for energy drinks to carry clearer labelling to protect young people from over-dosing on caffeine.

"Considering the variable and sometimes very high caffeine content of energy drinks, in combination with the aggressive marketing to youthful and inexperienced consumers, it would be prudent to require full disclosure of the amount of caffeine and other ingredients in energy drinks on the product labelling," said a study by Chad Reissig, Eric Strain and Roland Griffiths of the university's School of Medicine.

Alcoholic drinks containing energising ingredients have also come under fire from some quarters, most recently MillerCoors. The brewer recently said it was to put on hold the launch of a new alcoholic beverage containing caffeine, called Sparks Red, after coming under pressure from attorneys general in 25 US states to abandon the launch altogether for the sake of youngsters' health.

In Europe, meanwhile, the European Food Safety Authority is to review the use of ingredients such as taurine and glucuronolactone in energy drinks.

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