New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman initiated an investigation recently into whether energy drink manufacturers are deceiving the consuming public with misstatements about the ingredients and health value of its drinks. He recently issued subpoenas against big names like Pepsi, the manufacturer of Monster Beverage, and Living Essentials, the maker of 5-Hour Energy drink. The subpoenas requested information about the companies’ marketing and advertising practices.
The popular energy drinks are heavy on the carbs and caffeine and are sweetened with flavors such as grapes and berry. The manufacturers claim that the drinks boost energy because they contain B-vitamins, taurine and ginseng.
The Attorney General is not the first to initiate an investigation into the energy drink market. Just last May, in a move that some decried as a step towards the “nanny state”, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City announced plans to restrict the sale of large sodas at restaurants, movie theaters and other places.
Energy drinks are proving ever more popular in the U.S. Retail sales of the drinks rose 16% in 2011 to almost $9 billion. It accounts for 12% of sales in the carbonated soda category. Sales of Monster lead Red Bull and Rockstar in terms of sheer volume in the U.S.
Somehow, energy drinks are not regulated as closely as traditional sodas. FDA regulations do not define the term “energy drink”. It is a vague term, and energy drinks can contain widely varying ingredients.
Investigators are zeroing in on the manufacturers’ claims that their exotic-sounding ingredients will produce phenomenal result while downplaying the role of caffeine, which happens to be the main stimulant, in the drinks.
Usually the cans of energy drinks do not reveal just how much caffeine is in the drinks. However, the website for 5-Hour Energy does reveal that each drink has about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. This is directly contradicted by ConsumerLab.com which conducted a chemical analysis of 5-Hour Energy drinks and found that they contain 207 milligrams of caffeine, which is far more than an average cup of coffee which contains about 80-100 milligrams of caffeine, or less than half the amount in the energy drink.
A spokeswoman for Monster conceded that Monster contains half the caffeine of some cups of coffee on a per-ounce basis. However, many of the energy drinks contain caffeine from multiple sources and the unwitting consumer will not recognize the names of the other sources of caffeine. This violates laws prohibiting incorporating caffeine from more than one source in one beverage without disclosing the total amount of caffeine in the drink.
If the manufacturers have violated New York food and drug laws, they can be subject to fines and penalties, and they can be forced to change their labeling and marketing.