I found myself in 7-11 the other day staring at a vast selection of energy drink brands. I read on BevNet, a beverage industry website, that there are over 250 different brands of energy drinks on the market, and that it is the fastest growing segment of the beverage industry. In fact, an NPR program on energy drinks I listened to pegged the energy drink market at nearly $2 billion dollars in 2006. Standing there at 7-11, staring at the energy drinks, I was taken aback by how much some of these drinks were going for. For instance, an 8.3 oz. can of Red Bull, the industry leader, was nearly $2.00. If you think gas is expensive at $4 a gallon, a gallon of Red Bull would run you $31. What magic pixie dust is in these drinks to make them so valuable? I decided to dig a little deeper. I also wanted to find out if I could make my own energy drink for a fraction of the cost.
It’s About the Caffeine
There’s a famous scene in the movie, The Insider, where Russell Crowe, discussing the tobacco industry during a 60 Minutes interview says, “We are in the nicotine delivery business”. In the energy drink business they are, for the most part, in the caffeine delivery business. There seems to be an industry arms race to see who can cram the most caffeine into their energy drink. Of course not all energy drinks are the same, some highlight the importance of other ingredients like Ginseng or Vitamin B, and others are even caffeine free. But the majority of people buying energy drinks are doing so for the quick caffeine buzz they provide. I’m not saying caffeine is bad; lord knows I couldn’t make it through the day without caffeine. What I am saying is that energy drinks are primarily consumed for the caffeine buzz and quick jolt of energy.
For comparison purposes, an 8 oz serving of Diet Coke contains 31 milligrams (mg) of caffeine, whereas an 8 oz serving of Red Bull contains 80 mg. So Red Bull contains 250% of the caffeine you would find in an 8 oz serving of Diet Coke. In terms of caffeine Red Bull is, hard to believe, on the light side. Some energy drinks contain 250 mg of caffeine per 8 oz serving, or nearly 800% of the caffeine found in a Diet Coke. If you want to find out how much caffeine is in other drinks check out this caffeine database.
I was curious to see how three top energy drinks would stack-up against Coke in terms of sugar, caffeine, and calories. As you can see from the chart below, the only major difference between the energy drinks and Coke is the amount of caffeine.
Now the above chart doesn’t include other common ingredients found in energy drinks like guarana, ginseng, and taurine, for example, but the main active stimulant in energy drinks is still caffeine. Some energy drinks take pains to promote their blend of different ingredients because if folks just concentrated on the caffeine their product would be looked at as a commodity and no one would pay the rich premium they’re charging. Also, why, if they are promoting these other healthy ingredients, do they go to such an extreme with the amounts of caffeine they include? If you want to drink a healthy beverage with ginseng and antioxidants, there’s a name for that: tea.
So Can you Make an Energy Drink for 20 Cents?
Looking at the chart above, you realize the primary difference between a can of Coke and the major energy drinks is 57 milligrams of caffeine. I just needed to buy some caffeine supplement tablets to bring the amount of caffeine in Coke up to 80 mg. I found a bottle of 200 mg caffeine capsules, with 240 capsules for a total of $8. This comes out to $0.033 per capsule. Since the capsules each contain 200 mg and you only need 57 mg you need to crush the capsules and separate just under a third to add to your 8 oz serving of Coke. You can buy a 2 liter bottle of Coke for $1.19. A 2 liter bottle has just over eight 8 oz servings which comes out to 15 cents per serving. If you add 2 cents for the caffeine in the capsule, an 8 oz serving of Coke with roughly the same amount of sugar, calories, and caffeine as the major energy drinks comes out to just 17 cents.
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Photo credit: faeryboots