If you think that all energy drinks are a cred-free abomination of sugar and caffeine then you might need to reconsider. Healthier, mixable versions are pulling in a new consumer – and open-minded bartenders, too. Isabella Sullivan takes a look at the biz behind the buzz
‘The energy of the mind is the essence of life.’ So said Aristotle, and it’s clear this need for energy is still apparent today – particularly if you can put it in a can and drink it. Energy drinks are big business, with sales in the UK alone worth £1.5bn, and global turnover set to reach £46bn by 2020, according to a Mintel report from 2014.
Success, however, has come at a price. Alex Beckett, global food and drink analyst at Mintel, describes them as ‘the controversial, yet undeniably successful, wild child of the soft drinks family.’
Certainly it’s true that heaps of sugar, numerous cups of coffee’s worth of caffeine and days’ worth of vitamin D in each solitary bottle have left them with a reputation that could politely be described as ‘tarnished’. Indeed, many on-trade establishments shun these buzz-making beverages altogether.
But given how ubiquitous these products are elsewhere in the country (we’re the second biggest energy drink market in Europe) is the eye-rolling stance of many in the on-trade justified, or are they missing a trick by ignoring the age-old dictum of the importance of giving customers what they want?
This might be a discussion best left to Twitter at 3am, but what’s certainly true is that some brands and bartenders alike have been working together to change the image of these ‘lad culture’ liquids.
The last few years have seen the emergence of a new wave of ‘healthier’ and more marketable energy drinks. One of the brands leading the way is Scheckter’s. Aimed at an older, more affluent audience – and moving away from the stereotypical young male drinker – Scheckter’s is an all-natural, organic energy drink using fruit juice. And it’s already a favourite in the on-trade in South Africa and the Netherlands.
‘When we looked around at the market we saw the consumer is getting much more interested in natural products; people care about what’s going into their drink,’ said co-founder Charles Phillips. The drink comes in three flavours – original (and also a lite variant), mint and ginger and is designed to be a soft drink that serves a purpose: namely, to energise and reinvigorate its drinkers, but without the sugar crash and negative side effects.
However, Scheckter’s isn’t the only company looking to reinvent the market and change the negative perception of energy drinks. Founded by former Monster Energy employee Edward Woolner, POW energy water is a natural source of energy, containing ginseng, guarana, stevia and B vitamins.
Woolner had ‘a massive issue with the ingredients in standard energy drinks’ and sought to redefine health in the category – which was once defined as having low or zero calories. ‘Standard energy drinks contain up to 14 teaspoons of refined sugar, three cups of coffee’s worth of caffeine and three-and-a-half to seven days’ worth of vitamin D,’ he told Imbibe.
Once again his water is aimed at a more mature and affluent market – possibly at people who drank energy drinks 10 or 15 years ago but outgrew them, and might be ripe for a different type of product. ‘We are aimed at a market who still need energy but wouldn’t touch traditional energy drinks,’ says Woolner. ‘We are trying to extend the category and bring people back in.’
This effort to reinvent the market and make energy drinks appeal to a wider demographic is seen throughout the category. Carabao, a Thai energy drink that recently launched in the UK has embarked on a new multi-million
pound marketing campaign that, rather than being ‘lad-focused’, is aimed at a unisex audience. Their plan, again, is to reinvent the category and make it more appealing and sellable to consumers and trade establishments alike.
The rewards are obvious – and Peter Gutierrez, CEO of Carabao, thinks there should be room for all the newcomers if they get their offering right. ‘The energy drinks sector is one of the fastest growing across the UK beverages market,’ he says. ‘We’re in a world where consumers are living increasingly fast-paced and busy lifestyles. This is why we’re seeing growth in the category and expect it to continue.’
Given the boom in the category, you might even be able to argue that there’s room for the first ever craft energy drinks which, if they can pull it off, really would be a 180-degree change in people’s perceptions of the category.
German brand Club-Mate, for instance, has eliminated the ingredient taurine in its range, using natural yerba mate – a South American plant known for eliminating fatigue and hunger – instead. ‘Every year we observe a growing trend when it comes to an interest in our brand,’ reveals Club-Mate’s Kristof Partyka.
With five flavours including ice tea, cola, pomegranate and a winter edition, Club-Mate is low-sugar, and with its addition of yerba mate, claims to support the metabolism and lower blood pressure without having a strong effect on the medulla and heart. It is also free of taurine, a substance that has had very little research conducted on its effects.
The appearance of so many healthier alternative energy drinks appearing in the UK market has obvious implications for the on-trade, which ought not to find them such a turn-off as some of the more strident sugar-and-caffeine filled versions.
For starters, they offer an energising soft-drink alternative for those not drinking. ‘In terms of soft drinks, energy drinks are a great alternative to a cup of coffee,’ says Phillips. On a night out, if you’re staying away from alcohol, you can still stay awake and feel a buzz – ‘a functional soft drink’ if you will.
These craft energy drinks are also driving the comeback of the energy drinks mixer, with bottle serves. Or as Phillips puts it, ‘Why have an expensive bottle of vodka and then pair it with Red Bull?’ Recently Scheckter’s also worked on a collaboration with Bombay Sapphire Gin, creating serves using its different flavours. ‘People were shocked and surprised at how well it mixed,’ he says.
It’s a theme that’s echoed by POW’s Woolner, which also has high hopes for the on-trade. ‘Because POW is water-based, it mixes very well with gin,’ he says, ‘It’s almost like a tonic.’
Bars such as Barts in Chelsea, with its Lost in Chelsea drink – Grey Goose Vodka, peach liqueur, cranberry juice, orange juice and Red Bull – show there is a place for these products on cocktail menus, provided they’re used with some sensitivity.
For one, energy drinks can be used to make great syrups (use heat to reduce the liquid by half). ‘We’re programmed to think energy drinks are for high-volume bars and clubs as a mixer for vodka, but we used it as syrup,’ explains Ten Mill Lane’s Jenny Griffiths.
Used in a cocktail with gin, lemon juice and the syrup, Griffiths also played around with the syrup and scotch – using Monkey Shoulder, bitters and a dash of absinthe. ‘It is often overlooked as a cocktail ingredient because some people can perceive it to be gimmicky, but it works really well,’ she argues.
Adventurous bartenders can even try their hand at a little energy drink DIY.
‘Homemade energy infusions can give the same buzz, while letting you get more creative with your cocktail,’ reveals Adam McMahon of The Bloomsbury Club Bar. ‘Cascara berry tinctures, ginseng, coffee oil, all meet the demand.’
It is clear that the energy drinks market is growing – and, within that, the ‘healthier energy drinks’ category represents a new development that genuinely could take the category to a demographic who have either abandoned it or never engaged with it at all. Moreover, it opens up some genuine possibilities for mixing – even for serious bartenders.
And no, not just in another bomb.
The Bloomsbury Club Bar
50ml Ginseng-infused Angostura 5yo
50ml citrus vodka