Dark blue suit, shiny shoes: The man was polished.
But on a recent afternoon at a 7-11, he did something about as polished as a country bumpkin. He slapped down his money and slammed the shot before even walking out the door.
A 5-Hour Energy shot, that is.
Beverages used to sell based on the cheap or tasty factor. People didn’t seem to need “function” from their daily drinks. Or maybe they just didn’t know they did. Red Bull changed that thinking more than a decade ago, and if at first it was taboo to admit that you actually liked these highly charged hybrid beverages — Red Bull’s initial strategy was to market it as a vodka mixer in bars, after all — today even the classy set has no shame in making energy drinks a part of their daily pick-me-up.
“Now, I would be surprised if even 15 percent of [Red Bull] sales come from bars,” says Peter Strahm, a former vice president and general manager of the company who developed its East Coast market in 2000. “It’s normal to see Red Bull in the boardroom. We were never selling cheapness or taste. We were always selling a lifestyle.”
That lifestyle is still going strong. It’s refreshment with a kick, says Strahm, a means for always being “on your game,” courtesy of your high-tech drink. In fact, energy drinks aren’t even close to hitting their stride according to Strahm, who now runs his own drink distribution company in New York. Red Bull, Monster, and Michigan-based 5-Hour Energy may control about 80 percent of the market, but there are about 200 others jockeying for the rest at any given time. Recent bad press, such as reports stating that the high amounts of caffeine in Monster have allegedly caused cardiac arrest and death, don’t seem to be much of a determent, either.
In a culture of constant stimulation, why is it that we need all this extra energy?
A new Royal-Oak based energy drink asks the question from a slightly different, slightly self-mocking angle on its website: “Why would anyone in their right mind introduce yet another energy drink?”
Brian Turner works out. He’s health conscious. He’s also the developer of that new drink, “Feel.” It’s light and refreshing. It has 15 calories and about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. That’s one of Turner’s points: Is the energy craze really anything new?
“We’re a caffeinated society,” he says, noting that 71 percent of American women drink some form of caffeine a day (though not usually in the form of energy drinks because of traditionally macho marketing). Monster, in fact, is still marketed primarily to young men, and Turner says he routinely sees kids guzzling the sugary sweet drink at his nephew’s baseball games. Turner questions a parent’s logic in those situations, but admits, “There’s no shame in needing caffeine to get through your day. I’m going in a million directions. Sometimes I wake up and I’m tired right out of the gate.”
But if our culture over the years has always gravitated to more subtle sources of energy like plain old java, the beverage industry is now gravitating to healthier versions of energy drinks in order to entice people who don’t like coffee, or women who would rather not ingest tons of sugar and calories from a can adorned with glowing green claw marks. Health is one of the strongest driving forces in the business today, says Turner, who always wanted Feel to be the boost both women and men were looking for without all the baggage of coffee and other sugar-packed energy options.
“We developed the drink to go where the market is going — health-aware, active individuals who legitimately need an energy boost,” Turner says of Feel, which does not contain artificial flavors or sweeteners and is sold at Whole Foods, Plum Market, and other area retailers.
“I feel like in an ideal world, we would all be eating right, getting enough exercise, and sleeping eight hours a night. In reality, no one ever does,” says registered dietitian Anne-Marie Gullo. “I mean, I’m just now coming off of drinking diet Dr Pepper every day. It was such a long battle. I was getting to the point of craving it.”
As a nutrition expert, Gullo says sleep deprivation is the biggest energy killer, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. The mother of four, who also teaches Zumba classes, appears to be a realist. “Even during Zumba classes, when people should be at their most energized, I see people doing these energy shots.”
The principle behind energy drinks isn’t complicated, Strahm says. They also fill a pretty uncomplicated need. No matter what we do, and even if we get enough sleep and exercise, that need isn’t likely to wane. “It’s the one thing everyone will always want. More energy.”