Perhaps it's the weariness that comes from turning on the news month after month and hearing nothing but bad economic news.
Maybe it's the exhaustion of looking for work — or the fatigue of clinging to the one they've got.
Whatever the reason, tired, cash-strapped consumers are apparently willing to pay big bucks for a supplement that will make them feel alert and energized, without the perilous spike and fall of traditional sugar-laden beverages.
Say hello to the energy shot.
Less than five years since their conception, energy shots have surpassed an estimated $500 million in annual sales in the US, according to a new study by New Nutrition Business, released this month.
Shots are priced far above other premium beverages (market leader 5-Hour Energy sells at a 400 per cent price premium over even mainstream energy drinks, such as Red Bull). Yet, the energy-drink segment overall is growing at a 25 per cent clip, Beverage Industry News estimates.
What can explain their sudden appeal?
"I think energy shots are an idea people can appreciate," said Carl Sperber, communications director of Living Essentials, the creator of 5-Hour Energy. "It is the idea of, 'I just want energy. I'm not thirsty.' Why suffer through 16 oz of something you don't like when you can have a condensed, 2 oz shot that gives you everything you need? Even if you don't like the taste of 5-Hour Energy, that's fine. It's short-lived. You get what you want — energy — and you get it fast."
Launched in September 2004, 5-Hour Energy now claims 71 per cent of all category sales (with 60 brands competing for the remaining 30 per cent, NNB says). The product is sold mostly in the United States, some in Canada, and Living Essentials has no immediate plans to go overseas, although they are "evaluating" the possibilities, Sperber said. The brand comes in three flavours in the original formula, a boosted version, and a decaf version, which has much higher concentrations of choline.
It is the addition of citicoline to its 5-Hour Energy formulas in October 2007 that is the company's most-recent change to its product. "Adding citicoline seemed to compliment what we wanted to do all along, which was create a product that didn't provide caloric energy," Sperber said. "We wanted it to provide a feeling of alertness and focus, rather than nervous energy like you get from some herbs, and without the spike and crash of sugar."
Although the company announced the ingredient's addition on its webpage, it didn't go out and market it because citicoline is not really a household name, Sperber said.
Another reason energy shots are selling so well might be the fact the full extent of their price premium is obscured by their packaging, NNB concludes.
"The packaging format conceals the extent of the price premium — and the cost per unit appears to be value-for-money for many consumers," the report said. "Such products could never and should never be sold in 1-litre packs, because this would then make the extent of the premium very visible and cause consumers to question the value-for-money equation."
Of course if there is one thing market-watchers have learned in the past decade — watching first the tech and then the real estate boom — there is only so far up up can go.
"What are energy shots' growth potential? People ask that a lot," Sperber said. "I would say that power shots are here to stay for now, at least until the next big thing comes. It might be a permanent category, we don't know. It's such a new subset of energy drinks with such a young history, it's too early to say. We have had year after year of phenomenal growth, and obviously you cannot sustain that. Eventually, it will become a mature market."