Energy drinks first hit the market in post-World War II Japan and were popular with truck drivers and shift workers who relied on the explosive mix of caffeine, vitamins and sugar to stay awake.
By the end of the 1980’s, thanks to clever marketing, one energy drink originally known as Krating Daeng, changed its name to Red Bull and took Europe by storm. It became an overnight sensation, leading the field for energy drinks. The brand is now worth a staggering £11 billion dollars. But as the craze grew so did the list of ingredients as big companies added supplement after supplement to make their drinks stand out on the shelf.
However, I have seen a massive change in this market over the past few years with consumers now shunning the old-style chemical-based drinks in their droves and choosing instead the rapidly growing natural plant-powered alternatives.
Old-style energy drinks are just not good for you. It’s as simple as that. They provide a short, sharp, fix and for sure they do keep us alert and focused but the payback for that is we are way over-caffeinating and opening up the floodgates for all the problems that are associated with that.
Next to multi-vitamins, energy drinks are the most popular dietary supplement for young people under the age of 35, with men aged 18-34 consuming the most. These drinks are widely promoted to increase energy and enhance mental awareness. But now, scientific evidence is showing that these old-style energy drinks, especially when mixed with alcohol can have serious adverse effects on our health. The negative side-effects from caffeine are well documented to include headaches, heart palpations and commonly, the jitters.
Scientists recently started paying more attention to the side-effects of these energy drinks as they became increasingly linked to a surge in visits to the A&E departments at hospitals. Over the years, the drinks have been primarily marketed at adolescents who are unable to get hold of alcohol and students who routinely mix them with alcohol for a bigger kick. It’s a combination that has led to an increase in injuries and accidents due to impaired decision making as a result of such a heady mix.
Between 2007 and 2011 the number of energy-drink related visits to A&E doubled. In 2011 one in ten of these resulted in hospitalisation. Around 25 per cent of students consume alcohol with energy drinks and in 2011, a reported 42 per cent of energy-drink related visits to A&E involved also combining these drinks with drugs such as marijuana or over the counter prescription medicines.
People consume energy drinks for a variety of reasons, one of the most popular is to increase mental alertness. Our motorways are littered with service stations pushing coffee at us as a means to stay awake while driving. Caffeine is one of the most popular go-to fixes to increase mental awareness. And there is no doubt that combined with sugar it delivers. One study showed that one can of Red Bull increased concentration and memory by around 24 per cent. Some researchers put this down solely to caffeine, others say it’s the combination of caffeine and sugar.
But there is no longer room in the brave new, post-pandemic world of health and well-being for either of these ingredients and the new plant-based drinks are not designed to be mixed with alcohol.
We already know that large amounts of caffeine may cause serious heart and blood vessel problems and can harm young, still-developing cardiovascular and nervous systems. It’s also associated with anxiety, digestive problems and dehydration.
And as our desire for a healthier life-style has increased, sugar has become the devil ingredient. It is a known contributor to diabetes and obesity and there is also growing concern it may also be linked to other lifestyle-related diseases.
The public is starting to wake up to the harmful effects of these carbonated soft drinks with their massive amounts of sugar. A single 330ml container of a typical energy drink may contain 40 – 47 grams of sugar. This well exceeds the amount of recommended sugar (24 grams) for an entire day.
The move away from these additive-laden beverages can only be seen as positive. Several countries have already taken action against the old-style energy drinks either by controlling the caffeine content or actively discouraging young people from relying on them for their energy boost.
And the new, natural, kids on the block have found themselves really pushing at an open door thanks to the growth of the health and wellness revolution. This gained momentum during the pandemic as the stay-at-home lifestyle stymied the demand for energy drinks. No longer did people need the boost for the long commute or to stay alert in the office. Young people are now far more conscientious about what they are putting in their bodies.
This growing trend for clean eating has encouraged new brands in the marketplace to come forward and offer the same brain boost and energy surges without the annoying side-effects of too much caffeine.
The buzz words now are plant power and there is no doubt the tide is turning away from sugar and caffeine. Consumers are seeking out more natural flavourings, including Ginseng, which is making an appearance as a natural energizer. In addition, they want natural sweeteners and natural sources of caffeine such as green tea, yerba mate, guayusa and green coffee extract.
Nootropics are booming as they rely on mainly herbal ingredients that don’t contain caffeine but can still enhance brain function and energy without the side effects.
Old artificial ingredients, like Taurine, which is one of the most common, are being given the elbow to make way for naturals like Guayaki which sources its caffeine from yerba mate tea leaves while MatchaBar and Kuli Kuli use green tea as a caffeine source.
The new energy drink producers seem to be getting it right. While people will try anything once for health, it’s the taste that will test if they will return for a second purchase and reports suggest consumers are shunning chemically-laden drinks for the new plant-based alternatives.
One of the biggest market leaders in the modern arena of energy drinks is the company, Tenzing which led the vanguard in showing that it is possible to be powered by plants. This climate-friendly company produced the world’s first carbon-negative energy drink and is B Corp certified, a status awarded for the highest standard of social and environmental performance offering total transparency.
And it is this desire for transparency that is crucial to the health and wellness movement and many new brands coming to the market are offering natural caffeine alternatives, aware of the fact that consumers today feel more comfortable when they know what ingredients are used. The move now is for less carbonation and more natural taste as well as smaller portion sizes.
The only concern about the new natural drinks is that they might not give the user the same amount of energy they are looking for and may not be sweet enough. To win over the market they will need to improve focus and memory, increase endurance and help people to stay more alert in the same way the old-style drinks did.
But the likes of Red Bull are in freefall and as consumers age those old-style drinks are likely to be pushed out of the market.
The major attraction and selling point for the future is undoubtedly going to be the lack of caffeine and sugar as well as the absence of myriad artificial sweeteners and colourings.
We are now far more educated in what is and isn’t good for our health and the growing movement in wellness has shown we can get what we need from plants right across the board, not only in our food but in our drinks too.