Energy Shots: The Next Big Thing in Marketing Caffeine to Children

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Marketers are pushing energy drinks to kids as low-calorie "healthier" alternatives, according to a recent paper from a nutrition committee

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A few months ago, the Committee on Nutrition of the American Academy of Pediatrics published a position paper on sports and energy drinks in the diets of children and adolescents.

The committee distinguished sports from energy drinks:

Sports drinks: beverages that may contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes, and flavoring and are intended to replenish water and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise.

Energy drinks: also contain substances that act as nonnutritive stimulants, such as caffeine, guarana, taurine, ginseng, l-carnitine, creatine, and/or glucuronolactone, with purported ergogenic or performance-enhancing effects.

The operative word is "purported." The committee's tough conclusion:

The use of sports drinks in place of water on the sports field or in the school lunchroom is generally unnecessary.

Stimulant-containing energy drinks have no place in the diets of children or adolescents.

For the record, PepsiCo spent $113 million to market Gatorade in 2010 (says Advertising Age).

The committee was concerned about the effects of high-dose caffeine on kids. Although its report did not distinguish energy drinks from energy shots, its conclusion undoubtedly applies to those too. Energy shots are more concentrated versions of energy drinks.

This is a big issue because pediatricians are concerned about the marketing of all of these caffeine-laden drinks to kids. Marketers, the Nutrition Committee says, are pushing energy drinks to kids as low-calorie "healthier" alternatives.

BeverageDaily.com asked Red Bull, the leading energy shot seller, about its marketing practices. The company denies marketing its shots to kids.

We do not market our product to children and other caffeine sensitive people.... The authors of this report seem to be unaware that the American Beverage Association (ABA) and also the European Beverage Association (UNESDA) have already agreed codes of practice for the marketing and labelling of energy drinks.

Maybe, but energy shots are the new hot product, so hot that FoodNavigator-USA.com has just devoted a special report to them. Sales are booming. The only concern? Can they continue? Or, will they be replaced by the even hotter new thing: energy strips?

Energy shots special edition: Flash in the pan or the runaway success story of the decade? Cynics said they would never catch on. Who would cough up $2.99 for a mouthful of caffeine, taurine, and vitamins when you can enjoy a coffee and a snack -- or a whole can of your favourite energy drink -- for the same price? Read

Energy shot market still has significant growth potential, say researchers: While it might not be able to sustain its early "meteoric" growth rates, the energy shots market still has significant growth potential and can potentially target a far wider audience than energy drinks, market researchers have predicted. Read

5-hour Energy increases grip on energy shots market: 5-hour Energy's grip on the U.S. energy shot market has tightened further in the past year, with the brand now accounting for nine out of every $10 spent in the burgeoning category. Read

Hain Celestial scores industry first with refrigerated energy shot: Hain Celestial will break new ground in the burgeoning shots market this fall with the launch of the first refrigerated energy shot. Read

Does the energy shot market have room for a new player? A David vs. Goliath battle is set to be waged in the U.S. energy shots sector as two ex-Marines seek to carve out a niche in a market so competitive that even Red Bull has thrown in the towel and made a sharp exit. Read

5-Hour Energy ramps up from seven to nine million bottles a week: 5-Hour Energy is now selling nine million bottles of its energy shots a week compared with seven million last year, a 28 percent rise in volume, the firm has revealed. Read

Monster Energy maker: Continued growth of energy drinks 'remarkable': The U.S. energy drinks sector is continuing to generate "quite remarkable" growth despite the depressing economic climate and high gas prices, according to the owner of Monster Energy drinks and Worx Energy shots. Read

Red Bull cans energy shots and Cola in U.S. (but not Europe): Global energy drink leader Red Bull has taken a rare step back by withdrawing Red Bull Cola and Red Bull Energy Shots from the U.S. market -- but says it has no plans to withdraw the products from the other 20 markets where they are sold. Read

Entrepreneur: Energy strips could be worth $1bn in 3-5 years: The entrepreneur behind Sheets Energy Strips -- novel dissolvable strips delivering an instant hit of caffeine and B vitamins -- says the category could be worth $1bn in the next three-to-five years. Read

These products are about making a fortune selling potentially harmful beverages under the guide of "healthy" to anyone wanting a quick caffeine fix.

They are about marketing, not health.

Water anyone?

Image: garryknight/Flickr.

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This post also appears on Food Politics.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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