Stimulating science: Energy drink trends

A quick Q&A with neuropsychologist and founder of Nawgan products, Rob Paul about trends in the energy drink market.

The energy drink market is buzzing. Sales are cranking, though public image has been given a jolt by recent federal scrutiny. In his Nutracon presentation, “What's in Your Energy Drink?” Rob Paul, clinical neuropsychologist and founder of Nawgan products, explained some of the issues contained in those oddly-sized cans. We picked his brain about recent developments in the category.

Fi: What trends are you seeing in the energy drink category?

Rob Paul: There's more diversity, including additional ingredients, like protein. And there's also a trend in natural and organic, though I'm not sure if that's significant enough to have staying power. Are consumers demanding that drink makers present more science to back up their claims? I don't think there's been much of a paradigm shift yet, but it's going to have to happen. The consumer's going to want to have that information and as new brands emerge, that's going to be critical. I don't think there's been a lot of rigor in the scientific space for these drinks, but it's where the industry's going to go.

Fi: Recently, there's been more federal and public attention given to caffeine and its safety. Do you think the focus will spread to other energy drink ingredients?

RP: Caffeine's the low-hanging fruit. It's the one people understand best so it's the one they go after first. But it's not where regulatory attention's most needed. The complicated story about energy drinks is not so much about caffeine, but about the total stimulant burden. What else is in the product that's stimulant-creating, that interacts with caffeine or doesn't interact with caffeine, that's ultimately not healthy? The attention to caffeine's been driven by familiarity, and in the future I think there will be greater attention paid toward different ingredients.

Fi: Are you seeing any interesting new energy drink ingredients?

RP: There's been a recent product developed called RIZE, using a sugar that has a longer metabolic life that's interesting. But in terms of major twists and turns in the ingredient platform, there's not great differentiation. There's a few brands that are using ingredients that take energy to a new level of function, like ours with Cognizin (which promotes alertness, focus and concentration). As brands amass data about new ingredients, some may become important or more relevant. But I think that's a ways out. It takes time to develop consistency in data and a complete scientific dossier that supports a product. For example, Cognizin's been around since the 70s. It takes a long time for the scientific world to validate an ingredient, to study it in humans, to determine its safety. That's why most energy drinks are basically carbon copies of one another with maybe a fairy dusting of a different ingredient, but not enough to have a true biological impact.

Fi: The same demographic seems to be buying (lots of) energy drinks. Do you see that changing?

RP: As the energy drink population matures, they'll seek something different. Acceptance of the basic benefit is widespread, no question. That's why coffee and Starbucks are so popular. It's bridging that connection that's going to be the art of the science. There's great potential, but it can only be done with credible ingredients that will set precedents and with a lot of education and marketing money to bridge that gap (to new consumers)... evolution is good.

For more, check out a quick interview with Rob Paul about cognitive drinks.

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