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By Kantha Shelke, Ph.D. | 10/09/2008
Rapidly growing as a national epidemic, fatigue is driving consumers to seek foods and drinks as a source of energy. Sugar, caffeine, taurine and B vitamins increasingly lace the hundreds of new energy drinks manifesting each year, which compete with coffee, tea and cola as means to supplement energy levels.
The category is expected to top $10 billion by 2010, according to Mintel International, Chicago. To differentiate from the rest of the pack, successful new entries are offering high-performance ingredients that are safe, healthier, natural, organic and without the dreadful crash.
Most energy drinks deliver some combination of stimulants – B vitamins (to help convert sugar to energy and to regulate red blood cells, which deliver oxygen), taurine, caffeine, guarana and gluconodeltalactone – plus rafts of sugar in the forms of maltodextrin, fructose and glucose. The general idea is for the various stimulants to kick in at their respective speeds for a stepwise trigger of performance improvement and a concurrent enhancement of focus, alertness, mood and reaction speed.
Moms, the largest demographic dealing with chronic tiredness and fatigue, are concerned how these ingredients might affect their health or the health of their children. When consumer research revealed mothers and health-conscious consumers wanted a healthier alternative to sugar and caffeine, Ocean Spray (www.oceanspray.com) created Cranergy, a juice-based energy drink designed to be a natural and healthy alternative in the booming energy drinks sector, which continues to be dominated by Red Bull and Monster.
“Cranergy is designed for people who need a boost but not a big jolt of energy,” says Ken Romanzi, COO of the Lakeville-Middleboro, Mass., cranberry cooperative. “We’re simply trying to satisfy a need-state in the healthier juice aisle.”
Targeted to moms and young adult females, the non-carbonated drink provides green tea extract and five B vitamins to “naturally energize.” Vitamin C and a touch of Splenda sucralose round out the taste in a mere 35 calories per 8-oz. serving (50 percent fewer calories than leading energy drinks).
In fact, there are a number of new products developed specifically for the overlap of women and the energy drink market. The female focus clearly has shifted to juices and natural ingredients, including superfruits and plant extracts. Sambazon (www.sambazon.com), San Clemente, Calif., created consumer excitement with its natural and juice -based energy drink Amazon Energy.
“The combination of two superfruits – the classic açaí with vitamin C-loaded acerola fruit – offers a unique umami type of flavor that gets sweeter with additional sips,” says Sambazon founder Ryan Black. “The energy ingredients are natural, organic and healthful. Adding organic evaporated cane sugar to organic guarana with branded Guayaki yerba mate extract and Steaz green tea extract allows for a subdued sweetness with the right level of tart and earthy flavors.”
Guarana, generally recognized as safe (GRAS) in the U.S., contains guaranine, which is chemically equivalent to caffeine, along with zanthines, which help round out its stimulating effect. Mate also contains xanthines along with mateine, which is physiologically similar (yet distinct from) caffeine, tea and guarana.
Mate is popular because it provides a mental state of wakefulness, focus and alertness reminiscent of most stimulants, but often without the negative effects of anxiety, upset stomach, jitteriness and heart palpitations typically associated with other stimulants.
Honest Tea’s Citrus Energy Green Tea gets a natural boost from green tea extract and organic yerba mate.
Bethesda, Md.-based Honest Tea (www.honesttea.com) rolled out Citrus Energy Green Tea, a lightly sweet green tea beverage that is said to give a natural boost with the power of green tea extract and organic yerba mate. According to spokesperson Dale Crowell, “The all-natural, jitter-free energy drink provides one-fourth the caffeine of coffee and contains 125mg EGCG [epigallocatechin gallate] – the key antioxidant found in tea.”
The beverage is lightly sweetened with organic cane sugar for people who are watching their calories (only 35 calories per serving), but who don’t want “diet” products. Flavored with a sophisticated blend of organic orange flavor, organic orange concentrate, organic acerola concentrate and a hint of lemon juice concentrate, it tastes like freshly steeped green tea.
The “energy” in energy drinks comes from two types of ingredients: the stimulants and the carbohydrate sweetener. Science has helped launch a number of remarkable, performance-boosting carbohydrates that are also slow burning. Products low in sugar are also naturally lower in calories and are popular with consumers concerned about excessive amounts of sugar/calories in their diets.
The entire Vitaminwater line focuses on health-boosting properties. “Energy” in tropical citrus has B3, B5, B6, B12 plus C, as well as “natural caffeine,” ribose and taurine.
A popular energy ingredient these days is D-ribose – found in drinks including PepsiCo’s SoBe Life Water, Snapple Antioxidant Water and Coca-Cola Co.’s Glaceau VitaminWater Endurance. A naturally occurring monosaccharide, D-ribose is an essential part of how cells synthesize and rebuild energy. D-Ribose levels are low when one is tired and replenishment often does not occur at the needed pace.
Jacob Teitelbaum, a board-certified internist who does consulting, says clinical studies have established the sugar as a fuel-building powerhouse that regenerates energy levels and helps one lead a more active life.
Marketers choose D-ribose because it offers several structure-function health claim options including energy, relief from cramping and soreness, heart health and quality of life, physical performance and metabolism stress.
Formulating with ribose is relatively simple. The five-carbon sugar with neutral to slight sweetness is a homogenous, free-flowing powder that is white to slightly yellow in color, semi-hygroscopic and readily soluble in water. It may be labeled as D-ribose or ribose and is considered a dietary supplement and GRAS up to 1,000 ppm as a flavor ingredient.
Isomaltulose, another naturally occurring sugar, is helpful in sustaining energy. Branded Palatinose by Beneo-Palatinit (www.beneo-palatinit.com), Morris, N.J., the low glycemic carbohydrate is an ideal alternative to highly fermentable and digestible carbohydrates such as sucrose, glucose and maltodextrin.
With a mild, sucrose-like sweetness, this functional sugar adds to satiety even as it helps increased alertness in energy drinks. Addition of Palatinose to energy drinks is simple, according to Joe O’Neill, executive vice president of sales and marketing. “It may replace part of or the entire amount of sugars in the formulation without any major further adjustments in processing or the formulation.”
“Energize Life” is one of the “flavors” of SoBe’s Life Water, from PepsiCo, has vitamins B6 and B12.
Agave is another sugar popular with energy drink consumers for its low glycemic index and sustained release of energy. “The absence of spikes associated with highly glycemic sweeteners and the use of organic and non-GMO ingredients make Syzmo very attractive to discerning consumers,” Jeff Neals, CEO of The Organic Beverage Co. (www.syzmo.com), Austin, Texas, says of his company’s agave product.
Certified organic premium blue agave nectar has one the lowest GIs of the naturally occurring sweeteners on the market and offers a one-to- one replacement for sucrose, invert and high-fructose corn syrup, since it has a similar sweetness level.
With the surge in consumer demand, the market for energy drinks now accounts for almost 10 percent of the non-alcoholic beverage industry. Success will come to those who innovatively differentiate from the rest of the pack – be it on the basis of safety, efficacy or healthfulness.
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