Opinion: A Waste of Energy

Published in CSP Daily News

Here's hoping latest attack on energy drinks lacks wings to take flight

By  Steve Holtz, Online News Director & Beverage Editor

Steve Holtz

OAK BROOK, Ill. -- This one takes the cake! A long-time Red Bull drinker in New York is suing the energy-drink maker for alleged deceptive marketing and for charging a premium for a product whose claims are allegedly unfounded.

Noting recent reports in the scientific journal Nutrition Reviews and in The New York Times casting doubt on claims made by makers of energy drinks, Benjamin Careathers says Red Bull doesn't live up to its own hype and wants the beverage maker to stop advertising that the drink can provide benefits it does not and to correct "any erroneous impression consumers may have derived concerning the nature, characteristics or qualities of Red Bull."

Oh, and Careathers and his co-plaintiffs also are seeking restitution of the money he and his friends have paid to Red Bull over the 10-plus years they've been drinking the product.

On its website, Red Bull claims that "numerous scientific studies on the product and the individual ingredients prove" that Red Bull Energy Drink:

  • Increases performance.
  • Increases concentration and reaction speed.
  • Improves vigilance.
  • Stimulates metabolism.
  • Makes you feel more energetic and thus improves your overall well-being.

The lawsuit, however, says Red Bull provides no more effectiveness than a cup of coffee or a No Doz tablet. And, because Red Bull charges more than $2 for less caffeine (80 mg) than in a No Doz (100 mg), which costs about 30 cents, the drink manufacturer has been pulling the wool over consumers' eyes.

"Even a 12-ounce serving of Starbucks coffee costs $1.85 and would contain far more caffeine than a regular serving of Red Bull," the lawsuit says, according to a Reuters report.

I see multiple problems with this lawsuit.

First, regarding the amount charged, it's like saying a craft beer brewer can't charge more for his beer because it has the same amount of alcohol as a subpremium beer. It's not the amount of alcohol--or in Red Bull's case, the amount of caffeine--that you're paying for; it's the image and the attitude. And if the plaintiff wins on the idea you can't charge more for image, then alcohol, automobile and clothing designers are all due for a pricing correction in the future.

Secondly, after 10 years of drinking Red Bull--as noted in the lawsuit--it took a study and a news report for Careathers to realize the drink wasn't living up to its billing? Ten years is a long time to rely on a consumer product to increase your overall well-being--and not notice that it isn't working. Has he recognized yet, that he also hasn't grown wings, as the tagline of Red Bull ads claims?

For years, caffeine has been hailed as the wake-me-up drug of choice in the United States. If Red Bull was the first--or just the best--at heralding that attribute, that's the coffee industry's loss. Mountain Dew played with caffeine as a differentiator; Jolt Cola upped the ante, but more as a novelty. Red Bull effectively brought caffeine as a stimulant to a new generation of consumers, and if it exacted a premium price along the way, its marketing team deserves a pat on the back and to be held up as an example to consumer product manufacturers.

One side note: Thus far, Red Bull has not responded to the lawsuit, but the claims are the umpteenth attack on the energy-drink industry in recent months. While each attack carries limited weight, the collective heft will likely be enough to get the Food & Drug Administration to enact regulation of the category. It's a growing snowball that retailers need to keep an eye on.

Agree? Disagree? Share your opinion below or email Steve Holtz at sholtz@cspnet.com.

By Steve Holtz, Online News Director & Beverage Editor
View More Articles By Steve Holtz