Kimberly Lord Stewart

April 22, 2009

9 Min Read
Real energy for real people

Americans are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Who doesn't get enough sleep at night? Whose schedule is not entirely time-crunched? Who isn't worried to exhaustion about the economy, your job, your kids, and your diet? Clearly, the market potential for energy products has never been higher. Kimberly Lord Stewart kicks the caffeine habit in search of the real energy economy

One could say this country runs on two fuels — fossil and, increasingly, energy drinks. According to a March study by Zenith International, sales for energy shots grew by 130 per cent in 2008. Fueling the need for these quick hits within Western society is an ever-growing problem with sleep deprivation and fatigue.

The starting line for the energy-product market was athletes seeking to shave off microseconds from their performance times. The trend got another jolt when college students found sugary, highly caffeinated energy cans offered a quick buzz. The market is ready for a slower pace — not in sales but in ingredients for stamina and a higher quality of life rather than jitters and irregular heartbeats.

The emerging market for this sector is driven by older consumers. First, there are the nine-to-fivers who now work seven-to-seven to keep their jobs, and need a way to make it through their long day. Secondly, the ageing population is fighting to stay active and awake as sleeping patterns change. The operative word is stamina. Though perhaps not as sexy from a marketing perspective, the boomer generation is an untapped market of 80 million Americans, nearly 30 per cent of the population. "When you think about what boomers want, they want to stay as young as they can for as long as they can. And, they want to have vitality for as long as they can," says Kathy Lund, vice president of marketing and sales at Bioenergy Life Sciences, supplier of ribose for energy and cardiovascular purposes.

Lund says that for her company, the goal is to find ways to market ribose as an affordable option for healthy people who long for energy without jittery caffeinated products. The opportunity, she says, is that "older Americans don't want to be supermodels. They want a higher quality of life, but the challenge is positioning products in an upbeat way. Fatigue sounds like you are an old lady."

Beyond caffeine
To date, cheap and steep are the key words of the energy-drinks market. The cheaper the ingredient and the more elevated the buzz, the higher the margins. "Caffeine and sugar are low-priced and they give people a jolt, which is why they are so popular," says Chris Kilham, author and medicine hunter.

"Unfortunately, the energy-food and beverage market is driven by so-called stimulants," says Bob Green president of Nutratech, makers of Advantra Z, a thermogenesis and energy ingredient. "This tactic has the potential for causing cardiovascular and central-nervous side effects — and fad ingredients that have neither a proven track record nor scientific support. This is not a recipe for long-term success."

Kilham would like to see the industry shift away from super-caffeinated products to ingredients that offer sustained energy, improved sleep and better mental clarity. One way to create the shift, he believes, is for manufacturers to consider ingredients such as adaptogens that reduce the health-damaging effects of constantly elevated levels of stress hormones (see the list of adaptogen herbs, page 25). Adaptogenic herbs give the adrenal glands a much-needed rest by acting on signals from the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, which trigger the production of stress hormones from the adrenal gland. "These ingredients don't have the same punch in the kidney as Red Bull," Kilham says.

Means of reducing fatigue and stress, and altering mood, are often interrelated. PL Thomas focuses on ingredients that co-exist in this arena, whether it is co-Q10 to improve the ATP cycle; Lipogen PAS, the combo-product of phosphatidylserine (PS) and phosphatidic acid (PA), which may reduce cortisol levels and thus stress; Rhodiola rosea; or even a spice extract to maintain serotonin levels. "By putting a product together that incorporates these different actions, we wind up with a better opportunity to successfully help the common individual with fatigue and stamina," says Rodger Jonas, PL Thomas' national business development manager.

Less is more
As companies move into this largely untapped market, safety is a consideration. Less may be more — including less caffeine, less sugar, even less packaging. One of the primary factors of fatigue is as basic as hydration. Tim Moxey, founder of Nuum and U electrolyte drink tablets, was inspired to find a better way after a particularly dangerous incident with one of his college professors who became gravely ill from dehydration on a hot, 100-mile bike ride.

Moxey had nothing to offer his overheated friend except an overheated sugary sweet energy drink. "Products — like gels, goos and bars — have come a long way," Moxey says, "but energy drinks have changed little over the years." Moxey came up with what he calls a "low-tech, idiot-proof solution" — a tablet that slips into a water bottle, maximizes electrolyte bioavailability, and has no sugar or alternative sweeteners. Moxey says he was frustrated and tired of powdered mixes blowing away in the wind on mountain-climbing expeditions, and felt a portable effervescent tablet was the way to go.

Another difficult factor to account for as one ages is the need for fewer calories but more nutrients to maintain energy levels. Getting enough protein is crucial to reduce fatigue and the incidence of muscle wasting (sarcopenia). Addressing muscle loss and fatigue is a key message behind Lonza's branded L-carnitine product called Carnipure, which can be found in drinks, bars, dairy products, biscuits and confectionery products.

Protein drinks are another fatigue-fighting option. Boomers clinging to youth are looking for options beyond brands that are associated with infirmity. New technologies in soy protein and whey fortification are opening up new product developments for beverages. "The transformation from niche to mass market has certainly begun, but there is still unsatisfied potential. The entry of a major player with global distribution and sizeable marketing budgets would help to educate consumers more about the benefits of protein and take the segment to the next level," says Esther Renfrew, Dairy Market Intelligence Manager at Zenith. Recent brand introductions include Mix1, a whey-based high-antioxidant, high-protein and high-fibre drink; Designer Whey's Protein2Go beverages featured on The Biggest Loser television series; and Revival Soy Shakes, physician-formulated soy shakes.

The added bonus for products like these is that they are also low glycaemic. Products that control glycaemic index have a dual role in maintaining healthy blood-sugar levels and prolonging stamina. Beneo Palatinit has captured this duality with Palatinose, an isomaltulose sugar that can be used in beverages, foods or supplements that are designed for energy enhancement. "Health-conscious consumers are not a homogenous group," says Debra Bryant, director of business development and technical services for Beneo-Palatinit in Morris Plains, New Jersey, the US subsidiary of Beneo-Palatinit GmbH. "They include not only serious athletes but also those seeking enough energy to enjoy a good walk after work. We feel this product is able to offer a unique functionality across many groups."

There is nothing more stressful and energy zapping than spending money on something that doesn't work. The energy-drinks market is rife with products that could indeed reduce fatigue if they contained enough of the said functional ingredient. Kilham says he longs for a day when food and beverage companies include efficacious doses of scientifically proven ingredients such as adaptogens. Given that new technologies exist — such as time-release encapsulation and flavour masking — this idea is not too farfetched. Cost may be king, but surely efficacious products are the recipe for sustainable profits.

Efficacious yet affordable dosing is a goal for Bioenergy. Ribose has roots in the medical channels in areas of chronic fatigue and congestive heart failure, and sports/energy. Now the company is conducting research to test ribose dosage and its effect on anaerobic threshold and quality of life for healthy individuals. Small pilot studies cite positive results in reducing fatigue and improving vitality with as little as 1.5g of ribose. Two larger placebo-controlled studies will be released in late summer using 3g of ribose, and glucose as the placebo. "Our goal is to broaden the market to make ribose affordable, with lower dosages that can make a significant difference in energy levels," Lund says.

Of aspects to consider, last but certainly not least is safety. Ephedra is perhaps the not-so-shining example of energy-ingredient marketing gone wrong. Side effects are nothing to ignore. "The youngest of baby boomers are often in high-stress positions, looking for the energy to juggle family and work. Older boomers are particularly health conscious and have more free time to make informed purchasing decisions. In fact, they may see themselves as amateur nutritionists," says Nutratech's Green. "Neither group is willing to take chances when it comes to the safety of health-and-wellness products."

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