When energy drinks began appearing in the United States a decade ago, many dismissed the caffeine-packed 8-ounce cans as a fad. Not anymore.
This year, category leader Red Bull became the sixth-largest carbonated soft drink company in the world, according to a recent issue of industry analyst John Sicher's “Beverage Digest.” Two other energy drink companies — Hansen Natural and Rockstar — have also cracked the Top 10, with Rockstar almost doubling its volume last year to land at No. 9.
Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar seem to have cemented their place as the CSD alternatives for a new generation, but the market has also been flooded with a slew of start-ups. Hundreds of new brands were launched in 2006, and these products seemed willing to try anything — from tie-ins with underground clothing lines to audacious, offensive brand names like Pimpjuice, Cocaine and Bongwater — to stand out from the pack.
This growth is beginning to attract some unflattering attention, and not just because of the names. Researchers in Brazil recently found that mixing alcohol with energy drinks makes users feel significantly less impaired than they actually are. And, in an October presentation to the American College of Emergency Medicine's Scientific Assembly, researcher Danielle McCarthy specifically cited energy drinks as a key factor leading to 265 reported cases of caffeine overdose at a single Chicago poison control center during a three year span. The average age of patients was 21.
“Many young people think of caffeine as a food, not a drug,” McCarthy explained in the presentation.
The true number of overdoses may be under-reported, since emergency medical physicians are more familiar with the symptoms of illegal drug overdoses, and may misdiagnose a patient suffering from the chest pains, anxiety and nausea associated with the ingestion of excessive caffeine.