The Complete History of Energy Drinks

The Complete History of Energy Drinks

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Next to multivitamins and fish oil, the supplements people tend to lean on more than anything else are energy drinks.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “energy” as the ability to do work, and that’s precisely what energy drinks have been synonymous with -- helping us get more work done, be it lifting weights, writing articles, crunching numbers, or cooking meals.

Suffice it to say that if you’re lacking energy, you don’t have the desire, motivation or ability to roll out of bed and do work.

Yet, in today’s neverending “on the go” mentality, energy has never been more in demand or needed. Compounding this issue is the second law of thermodynamics which states that energy cannot be created or destroyed -- it’s simply transferred from one form to another.

In other words, if we’re running low on energy, we must obtain it from somewhere. We simply can’t manifest energy at the drop of a hat.

Under normal circumstances, we get our energy from food. When we eat food, our bodies break it down and from that we obtain calories which are a form of energy we can immediate use or store for fat.

And, while any sound-minded individual will recommend that you obtain the majority of your energy from whole foods, in today’s energy crisis, we don’t always have a few hours to spare prepping, cooking, eating, and digesting food to obtain energy.

Sometimes, we need energy faster than high school boys on prom night.

In these instances, when energy is needed yesterday, we turn to energy drinks for their rapid infusion of mind- and body-awakening power.

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What’s in an Energy Drink?

While the typical energy drink does come with a heaping helping of fast-acting energy from sugar, it’s also packing lots and lots of stimulants.

Stimulants turbocharge a tired CNS, energizing the mind and body to “get with it” ASAP. And, it comes as no surprise that the stimulant leading the charge to activate your mind and body is the granddaddy of all stimulants -- caffeine.

With its rapid onset of action and proven track record for boosting energy, mood, motivation, and focus, caffeine is the foundation on which all energy drinks worth a damn are built.

Energy drinks also contain various combinations of b-vitamins, electrolytes, and other “energy boosters” including, but not limited to:

  • Guarana
  • Glucuronolactone
  • Taurine
  • BCAA
  • Ginseng
  • Carnitine
  • Choline bitartrate

While these ingredients may boost energy production or heighten cognition, let’s be real. The reason people consume energy drinks is for the caffeine, plain and simple.

These days, energy drinks are as common as a morning cup of coffee, but there was a time not too long ago, when the tasty liquid motivators were nothing but a mere afterthought.

So, how did energy drinks go from being little more than a blip on the radar to a multi-billion dollar industry?

Let’s find out!

History of Energy Drinks Timeline

While energy drinks seem to have always been part of our lexicon, the truth is, that until about 20 or so years ago, energy drinks were relatively obscure in the mainstream.

How did men (and women) of their time survive without a constant infusion of caffeine, taurine, and b-vitamins?

We’ll get to that in a second, but before we get into the nitty, gritty details of how energy drinks came to dominate the functional beverage landscape, here’s a brief timeline highlighting notable moments in the history of energy drinks, in case you just want the fast facts:

  • 1819 -- German chemist Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge is the first to isolate caffeine from coffee beans
  • 1863 -- Italian chemist Angelo Mariani creates Vin Mariani, a combination of bordeaux wine and coca leaves
  • 1886 -- Coca-cola, the “OG” energy drink debuts containing actual cocaine
  • 1927 -- A chemist named William Owen releases Glucozade, an energy boosting tonic to help people recover from the flu
  • 1949 -- Chicago businessman William Mark Swartz releases Dr. Enuf, the first energy drink similar to today’s offering that contained B vitamins, caffeine, and cane sugar
  • 1960 -- Taisho pharmaceuticals makes the first Japanese energy drink called Lipovitan
  • 1976 -- Krating Daeng “Thai Red Bull”
  • 1985 -- Jolt Cola is introduced bolstered by a marketing strategy highlighting the drink’s increased caffeine content to promote wakefulness.
  • 1987 -- Dietrich Mateschitz meets with Chaleo Yoovidhya, the creator of Krating Daeng, and that two create Red Bull
  • 1995 -- Pepsi Cola releases Josta, a short lived offered that was discontinued in 1999. Josta was touted as a"high-energy drink" with guaraná and caffeine
  • 1997 -- Red Bull launches in the United States, signifying the start of the “energy drink phenomenon” we know today
  • 2001 -- Rockstar debuts
  • 2002 -- Hansen Natural unveils their energy drink offering Monster Energy Drink
  • 2004 -- Energy drinks are “downsized” into energy shots with the emergence of 5-Hour Energy
  • 2005 -- Frat boys rejoice over the debut of Four Loco, an energy drink combining the combustible mixture of alcohol and caffeine
  • 2008 -- France lifts its 12-year ban on Red Bull
  • 2009 -- Red Bull becomes legal in Norway; Columbia prohibits the sale and marketing of energy drinks to kids under 14
  • 2010 -- FDA bans energy drinks containing alcohol in various states
  • 2012 -- VPX Sports releases BANG 357 and energy drink flavoring is forever changed
  • 2012 -- Chaleo Yoovidhya, inventor of Red Bull, dies at the age of 89 from natural causes
  • 2014 -- The American Beverage Association convenes as agrees to label energy drinks as “conventional foods/beverages”, and not as dietary supplements.
  • 2018 -- VPX Sports attempts to re-invent the energy drink category with Meltdown, a keto-friendly energy drink combining caffeine, TeaCrine, and exogenous ketones

Early Brewings of Energy Drinks

Based upon the above timeline, it seems that “energy drinks” as we know them today are a fairly recent invention, but when you consider the fact that human beings have been consuming “homebrews” from coffee and a wide variety of other plants, you quickly realize that energy drinks are anything but new. They’ve been around for centuries.

Case in point, pre-Columbian Americans who drank a caffeine-containing “tea” as part of their daily proceedings.

Historians have traced these home grown energy drinks as far back as 1250 AD. Back then, natives of the land, that would come to be America as we know it today, would drink a dark brew of roasted holly leaves and bark. Though this drink was far from the palate-pleasing offerings of today’s energy drinks (in fact, quite the opposite as record indicate people consuming the murky liquid routinely vomited shortly after ingesting it), it was effective for boosting energy and routinely used in purification rituals prior to battle, religious ceremonies, and political councils.

In this light, energy drinks can hardly be considered new or innovative, all the more so when you consider that the Chinese have been drinking tea since the days of Emperor Shen Nong in 2737 BC.

But, when we’re talking about energy drinks, we’re not so much talking about the likes of coffee, tea, guarana, or even cocaine, which has been used for centuries to increase energy and productivity. These stimulating beverages are grouped into a category all their own, and will receive their own treatment in a future article.

When we say “energy drinks”, we’re talking about the kind brewed in a factory, concocted by a crazed chemist pulling out all the stops to ignite your senses, stimulate your neurons, and send you body into a frenzy.

Speaking of crazy chemists, the history of energy drinks can’t really be written without first discussing the isolation of the compound upon which all energy drinks are built -- caffeine.

While caffeine is naturally-occurring in coffee beans, cocoa, kola nuts and tea leaves, it wasn’t until 1819 that man was able to extract and isolate the potent stimulant. On a dare from lover of all things science, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge became the first person to isolate caffeine from some coffee beans. From here on out it became possible to add caffeine to anything -- pills, potions, beverages, and powders.

“If your day is gone, and you want to ride on...cocaine”

Just over 40 years later, the next milestone on our journey to today’s energy drinks comes by way of an Italian chemist named Angelo Mariani. In 1863, Mariani released a drink called Vin Mariani -- a bordeaux wine that had been treated with coca leaves -- the same plant from which cocaine is derived!

As you can imagine, anything that combines the stimulating powers of cocaine with the “liberating” and loosening effects of alcohol is like cake for a fat kid -- pure bliss. And it was.

Mariani first tried his stimulating concoction on a depressed actress. The results, to say the least, were phenomenal.

When coca leaves are steeped in wine, the ethanol in wine acts as a solvent, extracting cocaine from the leaves and creating a compound known as cocaethylene that magnified the effects of cocaine and ethanol several times over.

Historians have noted that Vin Mariani contained 11% alcohol and 6.5mg of cocaine in every ounce. Interestingly enough, Vin Mariani that was sent to foreign markets (such as the USA) contained 7.2mg of cocaine per ounce (253.4 mg/L), in order to compete with the higher cocaine content of other drinks consumed in foreign countries.

Vin Mariani wasn’t only a hit with depressed actresses either, prominent writers of the day were also huge “users”, including:

  • Jules Verne -- Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
  • Alexandre Dumas -- The Three Musketeers
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle -- Sherlock Holmes
  • Robert Louis Stevenson -- The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (written during a six-day cocaine binge). 

Mariani’s elixir was also enjoyed by nobility and heads of state too. Included among the list of consumers was:

  • Queen Victoria
  • William McKinley
  • Ulysses S. Grant
  • King Alfonso XIII of Spain, 
  • King George of Greece, 
  • The Shah of Persia

The designer of the Statue of Liberty, Auguste Bartholdi, even remarked that he would have designed the symbol of freedom several hundred meters taller had he used Vin Mariani.

Vin Mariani was so popular that it received a papal endorsement, with Pope Leo XIII awarding Mariani a medal of appreciation for his creation. Advertisements for Vin Mariani claimed that it would restore energy, vitality, strength, and health.

But, Vin Mariani wouldn’t go on to become the world’s top cocaine-fueled beverage. That honor would be reserved for another drink, one that would be deemed the “original” energy drink...

Coca-Cola -- the “OG” Energy Drink

Remember earlier when we mentioned that Mariani upped the cocaine content of Vin Mariani in order to compete with the domestic cocaine-inclusive drinks being produced in the countries he was exporting his stimulating wine?

Well, one of the countries he exported his coca-wine was the good ole’ USA. And, in the Peach State, an Atlanta-based pharmacist named John Pemberton had developed his own coca wine in 1885, called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca containing a mix of wine, coca leaf, and kola nut. However, when the 18th Amendment was passed, the era of Prohibition began, making sales and consumption of alcohol illegal in the States.

In light of these developments, Pemberton replaced the wine in his recipe with sugar syrup, dubbing his new concoction Coca-Cola. But, cocaine wasn’t the only stimulant in Coca-Cola. The popular drink actually contained two stimulants, cocaine and caffeine, and the sources from which these two drugs are extracted served as inspiration for its moniker.

“Coca” is in reference to the coca plant. The leaves of the plant are from what cocaine is derived.

“Cola” is derived from kola nut, one of the many well-known sources of caffeine.

Combine the two together and you have billions and billions of dollars in sales.

Initial advertisements for Pemberton’s Coca-Cola billed it as an "an intellectual beverage" for turbulent, inventive, noisy, neurotic new America." Other ads promoted Coca-Cola as a temperance drink "offering the virtues of coca without the vices of alcohol."

Pemberton himself ran ads calling his drink "one of the most delightful, cheering, and invigorating of fountain drinks."

When you realize that the original recipe for Coca-Cola used five ounces of coca leaf per gallon of syrup, it’s easy to understand why it was such a cash-cow.

Coca-Cola debuted on the scene in 1886 with each serving containing roughly the amount of cocaine you’d get from a small line of the stimulating powder. Subsequent versions of the drink dialed back the intensity a bit including only a tenth of that amount.

And, in 1903 cocaine was completely removed from the Coca-Cola formula. Following the change, the US Government attempted to force Coke to change the name of the drink, but after extensive legal jousting (see United States v. Forty Barrels & Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola, 241 U.S. 265 (1916), Coca-Cola managed to keep its name. Interestingly enough, the Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta does not mention the cocaine-based roots of its billion dollar beverage in the least bit, even though the soda is still flavored with a coca leaf extract (that's had the cocaine removed).

Another fallout from the Coca-Cola court case was that caffeine was now on the FDA’s radar. In the landmark case, the federal government (at the behest of Harvey Washington Wiley, the first FDA commissioner) attempted to force the manufacturers to remove caffeine from their drink.

Wiley believed caffeine was a harmful, habit-forming drug, and with the added fact that Coca-Cola was marketed to children, he believed Coca-Cola should eliminate caffeine. Fortunately for Coca-Cola, and the history of energy drinks, nobody at the time could prove that added caffeine was detrimental.

Thus, Coca-Cola kept its name and its caffeine, though the did dial it back a bit. Nevertheless, caffeine was on the Fed’s radar and continues to be to this day.

Coca-Cola was the first true energy drink as we know it today, but this isn’t the end of the history of energy drinks. In fact, it’s just the beginning as the 20th century will prove to be quite the era for all caffeinated liquids.

Glucozade -- The Flu-Fighting Energy Drink

Following the debut of Coca-Cola, its formula changes and legal entanglements, the next major milestone in the history of energy drinks comes by way of a British pharmacist named William Walker Hunter.

In 1927, the Newcastle pharmacist released Glucozade, a concoction consisting primarily of carbonated water and glucose syrup. Hunter developed the formula to help his son recover from jaundice. After a short time running the company, Hunter handed the reins of his business to pharmacist William Owen.

Owen sold the product to hospitals across the United Kingdom as they explored various treatments to treat the flu. Eventually, Owen rebranded the product as well as tweaked the name a bit. Glucozade dropped the “g” and became Lucozade in 1929, marketed with the slogan “Lucozade aids recovery.”

Records indicate that early versions of Lucozade contained about 46mg of caffeine (roughly the amount in a cup of tea) and a cavity-inducing 37% of the recommended daily amount of sugar.

The Beecham Group purchased Lucozade in 1938 and began distributing the product across the United Kingdom. Lucozade would go on to be viewed as a symbol of recovery. And, in the 1950s and 1960s it received serious national advertising, including a timeless ad that featured sick children enjoying Lucozade with the tagline “the nice part of being ill.”

During the 70s, lower levels of illness combined with fewer flu epidemics and increasing cost of goods resulted in a 30% decline in Lucozade sales between 1974 and 1978.

In an effort to combat declining popularity and sales, in 1983, Lucozade again got rebranded, revising its slogan to say “Lucozade replaces lost energy.” This marketing tweak was a huge win for brand owners, as Lucozade sales tripled over the next six years!

In 1989, the Beecham Group merged to form SmithKline Beecham, which again merged in 2000 with Glaxo Wellcome to become GlaxoSmithKline. In September 2013, the British pharmaceutical company sold Lucozade and Ribena (another carbonated drink), to the Japanese conglomerate Suntory for £1.35 billion.

In 2016, parent company Lucozade Ribena Suntory reformulated its top-selling beverage and the results of which were not received well at all. Maybe they should have learned from Coca-Cola’s reformulation debacle in the 80s as proof that you shouldn’t mess with a good thing…

Reported by The Grocer, a trade publication covering happenings in the food and drink industry, Lucozade’s de-glucosification translated into a drop in sales of 8.4%, roughly £25 million ($28.3 million US Dollars).

Lucozade’s manufacturer stated they altered the recipe to be lower sugar in an attempt to bypass the Government's new tax on added sugar.

While the fate of the new Lucozade has yet to be determined, we still have quite a lot to cover between its debut in the 1920s and present day. With that in mind, let’s jump back in time to post World War II Chicago for the next stop on the Energy Drink timeline.

Enuf is Enough, Already!

In 1949 Chicago businessman William Mark Swartz released Dr. Enuf, a highly-caffeinated soft drink loaded with vitamins and 46g grams of sugar. Swartz included the B vitamins as a means to “one-up” other sugar- and caffeine-only sodas of the time.

Swartz marketed Dr. Enuf as the “original energy booster” and commonly described it as “Manna from Heaven.” [4] Anecdotes from consumers noted that the energy drink was helpful for treating stomach pains, hangovers, and “brain fog.”

(Hell, you give anyone that much sugar and add some caffeine on top and you’ve got everything you need to feel like a million bucks!)

The lemon-lime soda also was the first to combine B vitamins, caffeine, and cane sugar together into a single drink. As you’re probably aware, this combination of sugar, vitamins, and caffeine has been replicated hundreds of times over the years and is the foundation for just about every energy drink on the market.

Dr. Enuf contains at least 80% of the RDA of thiamine (Vitamin B1), niacin (Vitamin B3), potassium, and iodine. Other versions of the product have been released over the decades, including several herbal varieties which contain guarana and ginseng, two other staple ingredients in today’s energy drinks.

Swarz eventually partnered with Tennessee beverage company Tri-Cities Beverage to bottle and distribute Dr. Enuf, which it still does to this very day. At the time, Tri-Cities Beverage also produced another well-known high-energy soda -- Mountain Dew.

Tri-Cities Beverage would later sell the rights to Mountain Dew to Pepsi, but retained the Dr. Enuf brand, and it still does to this very day. While not as popular as Rockstar, Monster, or Red Bull, Dr. Enuf can still be found these days, though not easily.

If you’re in the Tennessee-North Carolina-Virginia area, you’ll likely stumble across it on your travels. If you’re not frequently in those parts, check out a Cracker Barrel on your next road trip, as the country store and restaurant has been known to stock it.

Energy Drinks and the Far East

Our next stop on the energy drink timeline brings us to 1960. In that year, Taisho Pharmaceuticals creates the first Japanese energy drink in Lipovitan.

Initially billed as a medical tonic, Lipovitan was a bright yellow drink sold in 100ml (3.38oz) brown glass bottles and marketed as a means to enhancing mental and physical fatigue. Unlike other energy drinks to that point, Lipovitan wasn’t just caffeine, sugar, and vitamins. It also contained taurine and ginseng -- two staples of modern-day energy boosters.

Lipovitan can be found throughout Asia and it even expanded overseas, sold under the names Libogen and Livita. Taisho Pharmaceuticals has released a variety of Lipovitan products over the years, including some more “extreme” and “hardcore” ones that contained upwards of 3,000mg of taurine. Yet, while the largest servings of Lipovitan and its brethren contain 3 grams of conditionally essential amino, the bottles include a warning that consumers should not consume more than 100mg of the ingredient in a day.

Around this same time, a South Korean nutritional drink called Bacchus-F also appeared in the 1960s. Bacchus-F was formulated very much after Lipovitan, with many suspecting the manufacturer of Bacchus-F (Dong-A Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd) plagiarized Lipovitan.

Still, Bacchus-F can still be found on Korean shelves today, but it’s typically in pharmacies as an herbal remedy to prevent colds and cure hangovers, as opposed to energy drink.

This brings up another important distinction between energy drinks emanating from Asia in the 1960s -- they weren’t advertised as energy drinks or enhancers, but rather as “nutritional drinks” for salaried businessmen.

To make the leap to modern day energy drinks, we need to make a short hop from South Korea to the country of Thailand where the son of a poor farming family will go on to revolutionize energy drinks as we know it.

Krating Daeng -- The Wild Cattle

Born in the northern province of Phichit, Chaleo Yoovidhya was the son of a poor Thai-Chinese family that bred ducks and traded fruit. After working for his parents, Yoovidhya moved to Bangkok where he became an antibiotics salesman. Shortly thereafter, he founded TC Pharmaceuticals, releasing novel formulations including Endothelin (an antidiarrheal medicine) and Alumac (a treatment for stomach ache).

Following its manufacturing facility relocation in the late 1960s, Yoovidhya also expanded his companies product range to now include consumer goods. One of the new consumer offerings was a remedy developed to help keep truck drivers and factory workers awake during their long shifts.

This awakening-elixir contained a mixture of water, sugar, caffeine, taurine, inositol and B vitamins. It was obviously sweet, but not carbonated. He called it Krating Daeng (or kratingdaeng) and released it in 1976.

The inspiration for Yoovidhya’s creation was a species of wild cattle known as gaur. And, in case you need to brush up on your Thai, Krating Daeng means “red bull.”

This drink erupted onto the scene and would set the stage for what would become the world's biggest-selling energy drink. But, not without a little help...

The Charging Bull

Energy drinks changed forever in 1982 when Austrian businessman Dietrich Mateschitz visited Thailand. At the time, Mateschitz was the marketing director for German toothpaste company named Blendez. Tired from the long flight across the globe, Mateschitz sought refreshment and popped open a can of Krating Daeng. After ingesting the tasty, non-carbonated liquid, the businessman quickly noticed a profound increase in energy, mood, and sense of well-being.

Upon experiencing this uplifting of mind and body, Mateschitz realized the drink could be a cure-all for people plagued by low energy levels. He met with Yoovidhya and discussed marketing the product to the masses.

Yoovidhya agreed, and the two set out developing a drink similar to the Thai sensation, but adjusting it to make it more suitable for Western palates.

Together, the two businessmen licensed the name Red Bull and launched their creation in Austria in 1987. The two would go on to make billions with their energy-boosting drink, claiming it “gives wings to people who want to be mentally and physically active and have a zest for life.”

Stateside things were heating up in 1980s as well. While cocaine was the “energy enhancer” for most businessmen, another less-illegal option was released.

In 1985, Jolt Cola debuted, marketing itself with the slogan, “all the sugar and twice the caffeine.” The tagline would remain with the product for 24 years until it was changed in 2009 to "Maximum caffeine, more power." Unfortunately, the change in marketing did little to boost the company, and following a dispute with one of its suppliers, Jolt filed for bankruptcy in 2009.

Jolt Cola did introduce some innovation during its tenure though when in 1987, the company released a low-calorie version, dubbed Jolt 25. The low-calorie offering was sweetened with a mixture of sugar and NutraSweet (aspartame), and, as you probably can guess, containing 25 calories per serving.

The brain trust behind Jolt also did one other very important thing -- diversified flavors. Typical energy drink to this point only came in one (maybe two) flavors. Jolt expanded its caffeine-laden soda to include a flavor line up consisting of:

  • Cherry Bomb
  • Citrus Climax
  • Electric Blue
  • Orange Blast
  • Red Eye
  • White Lightning

These days, Jolt can still be found, but under the name Jolt Energy. It’s also available in a wide range of flavors.

Red Bull Charges into the USA

Though it was released in 1987, Red Bull didn’t debut in the United States until 1997. But when it did, it went off like a nuclear warhead.

Fueled by the potent combination of caffeine, sucrose, glucose, taurine, and B vitamins (B3, B5, B6, B12), Red Bull was the energy-throttling solution for people suffering from lethargy, jet lag, or late nights of partying.

Of course, people always had coffee, tea, and sodas, but nothing quite gave people “wings” like Red Bull. Though, truth be told, the domestic cans of Red Bull contain only 80mg of caffeine -- about as much as you’d get in a cup of coffee.

Still, something about the product made it resonate with consumers, and it soared in popularity and sales. And, as with everything that hits it big with consumers, copycats, imitators, and impersonators followed.

The Big 3

Shortly after Red Bull’s US launch, Russ Weiner, the son of conservative talk show host Michael Savage, launched Rockstar in 2001. In an effort to differentiate itself from Red Bull, Rockstar featured a line up of different ingredients, including panax ginseng, ginkgo biloba, guarana, and milk thistle extract. Rockstar’s creators also made one very other important distinction -- serving size.

In 2001, Red Bull was available in 8 oz cans. Weiner and Rockstar debuted their creation in the double-sized 16 oz can, with the tagline -- "twice the size of Red Bull for the same price".

The original Rockstar contained 160 mg of caffeine per 16 oz can, offering the same caffeine content per ounce as the smaller-sized Red Bull.

Following on the heels of Rockstar’s release, in 2002 Hansen Natural, a company known for producing juices and natural sodas in California, created Monster Energy Drink. Interestingly enough, the company is now owned and distributed by Coca-Cola of all people! [5] Another 16 oz offering supplying 160mg of CNS-activating caffeine per can, Monster contained the most bloated of ingredient profiles when it launched, including 23 different ingredients!

While Monster debuted after Rockstar, current estimates peg it as the second most popular energy drink, obviously behind Red Bull. A large part of Monster’s success can be attributed to its brilliant marketing strategy which involved sponsorships with multiple extreme sports, including MMA, BMX, Motocross, Speedway, skateboarding, snowboarding, and even e-sports (if you can call playing video games a “sport”).

Monster also made the very astute decision to hire attractive women clad in skimpy clothing to “represent” their drinks. Anyone who’s ever taken a marketing class, or hell seen an advertisement, knows that sex sells, and Monster was among the best to do it at the time. (they’ve since been eclipsed by VPX’s BANG girls, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves).

Monster also took a page out of Jolt Cola’s playbook and released multiple flavors and variations. In fact, Monster can now be found in 34 different flavors. However, like most energy drinks Monster has experienced its own bit of controversy.

When it was initially released, Monster classified itself as a “dietary supplement”, but has since changed over to calling itself an “energy drink”. The move was prompted by multiple reports of people dying from caffeine-related issues.

Additionally, the company has also filed multiple lawsuits against anyone and everyone seeking to include the word “monster” in their name. Though, Monster has dropped several of these suits based on the negative publicity and consumer reaction it received.

More recently, in 2014, Monster was embroiled in another controversy when a YouTube video floated the idea that the Monster can contain several hidden satanic symbols in its logo. With the “M” claw logo resembles the Hebrew symbol for six, writing “666” in Hebrew isn’t accomplished by stringing the symbol (called “vav”) together thrice.

Anyway, let’s not get too mired down in the legal entanglements and conspiracies of the Big 3. Let’s instead shift our focus to the next great innovation in the energy drink sector….SHOTS!

Energy Drinks Go Small

To this point, we’ve seen energy drinks steady get bigger, tastier, and more caffeinated. Then, in 2004, the energy drink got a severe disruption with the debut of the pocket-sized 5-Hour Energy.

Manoj Bhargava was born in India and moved to the United States when he was 14 years old. After dropping out of Princeton during his freshman year, he moved back to his birth country and lived there for 12 years as a monk.

Returning to the US after his stint as a monk, Manoj worked various jobs, from taxi driver to printing press operator. Then, in 1990 he started a plastics company, which he eventually sold to a private equity firm.

Then, in 2004, while attending a tradeshow, Bhargava encountered energy drinks and had the idea of creating an energy drink that contained NO sugar or strange stimulants. He also wanted to create a product that was smaller yet still packed a punch.

From this dreaming came 5-Hour Energy, 2.49-ounce bottle that provided more caffeine than any of the Big Three (207mg of caffeine to be exact). The downsizing also meant that Bhargava had strategically positioned his product to not directly compete head-to-head with the other energy drinks, such as Red Bull or Monster.

The move was a decisive home run, as 5-Hour Energy can now be found at cash registers across most grocery stores, convenience stores, and supplement shops. And, unlike most other energy drinks, 5-Hour Energy doesn’t have to appear in refrigerated cases or in the beverage aisle.

Energy Drink Sales Boom

Following the release of 5-Hour Energy, 2005 saw the debut of the extremely controversial, and frat daddy favorite, Four Loco. Distributed by Phusion Pharmaceuticals Four Loco (at the time) contained the combustible mix of alcohol and caffeine, two things that should never really be packaged together.

But that’s not all. Four Loco also contained taurine, guarana, and wormwood.

As you would expect, combining caffeine and alcohol in the same can create several “issues.”

In 2009, a group of US state attorney generals began investigating companies that produced and sold caffeinated alcohol beverages. The various AGs based their investigations on accounts of the drinks being inappropriately marketed to teenagers, and that the caffeine in the drinks could mask the sensation of intoxication.

In 2010, Four Loco came under serious fire when universities across the country began to report a host of injuries and blackouts related to the drink's abuse. As a result of these issues, Four Loco was yanked from store shelves. Though, it was eventually reintroduced to the market absent the caffeine in 2010.

During the early part of the 21st century, energy drink sales skyrocketed increasing 61% since the introduction of Red Bull to the U.S. markets in 1997. While competition has steadily increased since 1997, Red Bull still somehow manages to exceed two billion dollars in sales globally.

Suffice it to say the Yoovidhya is no longer poor, and when he passed in 2012, he was recognized as the 3rd wealthiest man in Thailand worth an estimated $5 billion dollars US.

Energy Drinks in the Modern Era

The public’s thirst for energy drinks and all things caffeine continues to rise, and energy drink manufacturers and supplement companies are lining up to satisfy the craving. The energy drink market has rapidly expanded and the consumer is the one to benefit.

Whereas energy drinks were always laden with sugar and caffeine, today’s energy drinks are typically low (or no) sugar as well as low (or no) calorie. Yet, they still pack all the caffeine of yesteryear’s energy drinks, and some pack a whole lot more.

Case in point, VPX Sports BANG which launched in October 2012. At debut, BANG was touting a hefty 357mg of caffeine per 16oz can. It’s since been dialed back “slightly” to 300mg, which is the “standard” for most pre-workouts these days as well, in case you were curious.

The energy drink sector has had a flurry of other sophomoric offerings including Cocaine, Pussy, and Beaver Buzz. With each new entry, consumers are greeted by new flavors, novel energy blends, and irreverent names.

The Future of Energy Drinks

While the energy drink market is still “new” compared to the likes of other industries, it continues to re-invent itself due to a constantly changing consumer needs base. Whereas 5-10 years ago, energy drinks could get by with products containing 160mg caffeine alongside 50+ grams of sugar, today’s consumer is more cognizant of the potential perils of high sugar consumption.

As such, manufacturers have been gone to dial down the sugar content, replacing it with a mix of non-nutritive sweeteners in sucralose, stevia, and the like. Alongside this heightened awareness (and avoidance) of sugar is the rise of low carb/ketogenic diets.

To suit the constantly evolving consumer palates, energy drink suppliers have begun toying with the idea of releasing keto-friendly energy drinks using new age ingredients such as exogenous ketones, also known as BHB salts.

Leading the charge for this new-age energy drink is none other than VPX Sports, who re-released its classic Meltdown drink. The revised Meltdown RTD takes advantage of the latest developments in sports nutrition (as well as the keto fad), including exogenous ketones, in the form of goBHB® as well as the long-lasting neuroactivator TeaCrine®.

Still, the market as a whole has long way to go. Few, if any, products are transparently labeled. They’re not required to be by law, but seeing as the supplement industry has shifted towards open labels, and a great many supplement companies now produce energy drinks, it would make sense that energy drinks of tomorrow should start embracing the open-label trend.

The energy drink market is forecast to continue growing strongly over the next decade, but with an increasingly informed consumer who also demands “cleaner” and “healthier” options in everything the purchase, it will be interesting to see what is the next milestone in the annals of energy drinks.


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