Energy drinks are not only the fastest growing soft drinks category, but also the most picked on. Every month there seems to be another news item about some hapless kid popping its clogs after guzzling fifteen cans of Manic Mongrel or whatever the manufacturers chose to christen their sugary brew of chemicals.
Just this month, EFSA (the European Food Safety Authority) published a report stating that “12% of adult Europeans consume energy drinks at ‘chronic’ levels”.
Do people really drink that much of this stuff?
Consumption highest on Red Bull’s home turf
According to the commercial database I use for my work, global consumption of energy drinks shot up from 842 million litres in 1998 to…wait for it… 5.6 billion litres in 2012. Whoah.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Austria, home of Red Bull, led the global per capita consumption charts with 7.6 litres in 2012, followed by Ireland and the UK (both 6.3 litres), Switzerland (6 litres), the US (5.4 litres) and Australia (5.3 litres).
This may not sound like an awful lot, when compared to cola carbonates, of which Americans consume, on average, 82 litres per head in one year, Brits 52 litres and Canadians 63 litres.
Boys just want to be cool
It has to be taken into consideration, though, that cola drinks are widely consumed by both sexes and virtually all age groups. Energy drinks, on the other hand, have one core target group: young males.
Officially, the target demographic for these beverages is often delineated as ‘males aged between 18 and 29’, but in reality, my guess is that the age group over which they exert their maximum appeal is more like 13-35.
Marketers, who know how this segment of the human species works, have gone to great lengths to make these concoctions synonymous with ‘cool’ sports, like snowboarding and speedboat racing. Red Bull, in particular, takes the utmost care to sponsor only the ‘right’ kinds of events in line with its image. Extreme skydiving (remember Felix Baumgartner’s 39 kilometre supersonic freefall jump last October??) reflects its daredevil adrenaline fuelled values, but it won’t put its name to anything slightly ‘base’ and messy like boxing.
Incidentally, Red Bull, which is the world’s leading energy drinks brand, has never produced a single drink. It’s a purebred marketing company established by a guy called Dietrich Mateschitz for the sole purpose of lining his pockets by hyping a beverage that is made by someone else. (Mateschitz is worth a handsome US$7.1 billion, according to Forbes).
A warning label will help …NOT.
As to whether energy drinks are harmful or not is a a question easily answered by employing common sense. Without even having to go into the purported properties of other ‘magic’ ingredients commonly featured in energy drinks (for example taurine, an amino acid), caffeine, like alcohol and nicotine, is a poison. If you have too much of it, you can, uhm, poison yourself. Fancy that!
Unlike alcohol and nicotine, it’s hard to push for age restrictions on caffeinated beverages, for the obvious reason that coffee, tea, cola and chocolate all contain caffeine or compounds similar to caffeine, and that these are widely consumed by virtually all age groups.
A can of an energy drink isn’t any more lethal than a cup or two of coffee. What makes energy drinks potentially dangerous is their image, which is liable to inspire competitive hare-brainedness in boys along the lines “I can drink more of this vile stuff than you”.
The other danger spot is that energy drinks are often used as mixers for alcoholic drinks. According to the aforementioned EFSA report, 48% of 10-14 year-olds consume them that way. Energy drinks counteract the tiredness that usually comes with drinking alcohol, and so people may end up drinking more than they otherwise would.
Some want to see warning labels on energy drinks, but come on! Warning labels only make them more attractive to their target group. Personally, I think that the only way to curb consumption is to make it mandatory to sell them in pink cans. Preferably embellished with pictures of kittens. With sparkly bows on.
[For data source, click here]