Energy drinks – to drink or not to drink that is the question!

Energy Drink Q&A

What is all the fuss about Energy Drinks?

Energy drinks have been reasonably quiet in the media for some time now, so it was only a matter of time before they made their way back into the headlines!

Having been actively involved in dealing with various legal and regulatory issues in the Energy Drinks sector for several years, this is an area I am extremely passionate about, and it’s frustrating to see this booming industry constantly under fire!

If one were to truly delve into the energy drinks landscape, they would realise that there are many myths about energy drinks that have either been misconstrued, misinterpreted or manipulated to make headlines!

Plain and simple, energy drinks are just that … energy drinks. They serve a functional purpose and are sold to consumers for that particular purpose i.e. to improve energy, stamina and performance.

And let’s face it, the energy drinks market is massive in scale. In 2016, it was valued at approximately 43 billion globally and $12 billion in the US alone. By 2025, it is expected to double!

Recently, children’s health campaigners in the UK have been urging the UK government to increase its proposed ban on the sale of energy drinks to consumers up to the age of 18 rather than 16. They claim a ban would be the most effective way to help schools and universities reduce the consumption of energy drinks amongst their students.

And this continues to be one of the major debates among campaigners globally. Energy drinks have become a phenomenon and are extremely popular among young adult consumers. Why so? Probably because they are seen as the new alternative to coffee, they are associated with adrenalin sports or the latest electronic dance music, and they are endorsed by some of the most influential athletes, brands or ambassadors on the planet. Along with creative marketing campaigns, the relatively low cost, and a variety of flavour profiles, energy drinks have become extremely popular across a broad demographic.

Energy Drinks Australia

So, what exactly is an Energy Drink?

Wikipedia defines an energy drink as:

“A type of drink containing sugar and stimulant compounds, usually caffeine, which is marketed as providing mental and physical stimulation (marketed as “energy”, but distinct from food energy). They may or may not be carbonated and may also contain other sweeteners, herbal extracts, taurine, and amino acids. They are a subset of the larger group of energy products, which includes bars and gels, and distinct from sports drinks, which are advertised to enhance sports performance. There are many brands and varieties in this drink category”

The most common ingredients include water, caffeine, stimulants (i.e. taurine, ginseng, guarana, l-carnitine and inositol) certain vitamins and minerals (i.e. B vitamins), and either sugar or some other form of artificial sweetener.

I won’t be delving into the pros and cons of each ingredient in this article (so feel free to get in touch if you wish to discuss further), however I will touch on a few that have been widely controversial.

Caffeine in Energy Drinks

Caffeine & Energy Drinks

The first of these is none other than caffeine. It is the main stimulant in energy drinks, with most energy drinks containing around 32mg of caffeine per 100ml i.e. approximately 80mg of caffeine in a 250ml can and 160mg of caffeine in a 500ml can. Caffeine is a chemical compound that stimulates the central nervous system and is considered to be safe in small doses. In fact, coffee sourced from retail outlets (e.g. espresso) generally contain more caffeine than a typical energy drink.

In Australia, energy drinks are one of the most stringently regulated categories of all world markets and in many cases, Australia has been used a benchmark for some of those markets. However, Food Standards Australia New Zealand has recently concluded that energy drinks contribute less than 1.2 per cent of overall caffeine intake for Australian children between the ages of 9 and 13 years, and 3.8 per cent for children aged between 15 and 16 years.

Australia is known for many things. Its beaches, the most dangerous snakes, spiders, jellyfish, sharks, its exorbitant property prices, avocado on toast, and of course, ‘Coffee’! Virtually all Australians are guilty of having far too many cups of liquid gold each day. Apparently, we consume over 5 billion cups of coffee each year, and so far, more caffeine is being consumed through this source and yet there are no warning labels in sight at any of our bustling cafes and our favourite coffee roasters. Food for thought when you consider that while energy drinks contain only as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, they contain stringent warning labels that discourage children, pregnant or lactating women, or people who are sensitive to caffeine from consuming them.

And if you want to get technical, in May 2015, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released its landmark opinion on caffeine, in which it concluded that:

  • Caffeine intakes from all sources up to 400 mg per day consumed throughout the day do not give rise to safety concerns for adults in the general population — i.e. five 250ml or two 500 ml energy drinks; and
  • Single doses of caffeine up to 200 mg — that’s more than two 250ml energy drinks — are unlikely to induce clinically relevant changes in blood pressure, myocardial blood flow, hydration status or body temperature.

Sugars in Energy Drinks

Sugar & Energy Drinks

Another controversial ingredient is sugar, I won’t bore you with the details, but yes, most energy drinks contain sugar. But so do most carbonated soft drinks. Nowadays, there are several low or even no sugar options that still provide that same energy hit without the high sugar levels.

But remember, it is an “energy” drink and it is intended for that purpose. If you are simply looking to quench your thirst whilst avoiding the extra calories, water is always available, and its free!

Imagine a world where there was no chocolate, no ice cream, no junk food — hamburgers, hot dogs, pizzas, soft drinks or energy drinks! It would be one depressing place! The world is a continuous cycle. We work hard to pay for the things we want — a nice house, fancy car, that amazing family vacation, and then once we have it, we start all over again, working to pay it off and move on to the next thing we desire — a bigger house, fancier car, and even better vacation! We like to indulge. We like to go to nice restaurants, eat delicious food (no matter how good or bad it is for us) and then spend all that time in the gym burning it off! As I said, a constant cycle!

Yes, some energy drinks are high in sugar. If that is a concern, look for those that have a lower or no sugar content and follow the strict recommendations provided on the can labels.

And while Energy Drinks manufacturers are taking more and more initiatives including the implementation of marketing campaigns to educate consumers about the safe consumption of their products, maintaining industry commitments focussing on the responsible manufacture, marketing and consumption of its products, it is ultimately up to you the consumer, to ensure you follow guidelines, educate younger consumers in your care, maintain a healthy diet and — using a well-known slogan — “drink responsibly”.

Energy Drinks Australia

Other Ingredients Found In Energy Drinks

Some of the other common ingredients found in energy drinks include Taurine, B Vitamins, Inositol, Glucuronolactone, Ginseng and Guarana. Again, I won’t turn this into a science lesson as there is a fortune of material online listing the positives and negatives of each of these ingredients but are energy drinks considered to be safe? The answer is Yes! I cannot stress enough that the Australian energy drinks market is amongst the most regulated in the world. All ingredients used in energy drinks are approved by Food Standards Australia New Zealand.

Final thoughts on Energy Drinks

There are always going to be haters! Months will go by where we do not hear a word about energy drinks in the press, and then when that cycle comes around again, there will be another hotly contested debate over the safety of energy drinks, caffeine and sugar. It’s how the world operates! But don’t get caught up in the myths and media propaganda. I’m not saying there aren’t studies out there that strongly contest the safety of energy drinks, I’m just saying that there are studies out there that contest just about everything! So, before judging, get your facts from a legitimate source and make an informed decision.

Remember, you are meant to live your life, but everything is about moderation – so don’t over-indulge.

If you require any assistance, contact one of our lawyers at info@lazaruslegal.com.au or give us a call on +61 2 8644 6000.

Mark LazarusMARK LAZARUS

Director at Lazarus Legal and has worked in the energy drinks sector for several years. He also works with startups and has a special interest in commercial law and intellectual property.

Mark is passionate about fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands and all things ‘energy’. If you are an FMCG brand, small business, creative, influencer or startup, and you require any legal, IP or regulatory advice regarding your business, product or personal brand, get in touch with Mark at mark@lazaruslegal.com.au or check out the services we offer.

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