Monster Beverage c.e.o. drags coffee into the caffeine consumption debate
by Keith Nunes
CORONA, CALIF. — Last year, Rodney Sacks, the chairman and chief executive officer of Monster Beverage Corp., promised a “vigorous” defense of his company in the wake of a lawsuit involving the death of a 14-year old girl and her consumption of the company’s signature energy beverage, and the potential for Food and Drug Administration action related to the energy drink category. Mr. Sacks continued his defense on Feb. 27 in a conference call with financial analysts to discuss Monster’s end-of-year and fourth quarter earnings.
Mr. Sacks said media attention related to the lawsuit and a potential F.D.A. inquiry has created softness in the market, but that the company was reporting positive earnings.
For the year ended Dec. 31, 2012, Monster Beverages net income was $340,020,000, equal to $1.96 per share on the common stock, up from $286,219,000, or $1.53 per share, in fiscal 2011. Sales for the year rose to $2,373,499,000 from $1,950,490,000 the year before.
In his comments with the financial analysts, Mr. Sacks compared the caffeine levels in Monster Energy drinks to the caffeine levels of coffees sold in outlets such as Starbucks and Caribou Coffee.
“Coffee has been, and continues to be, extensively and safely consumed every day in the U.S. by many tens of millions of consumers,” Mr. Sacks said. “Some publications have erroneously suggested that energy drinks contain up to 500 mgs of caffeine. And have compared them to a 5-oz cup of coffee that contains about 100 mgs of caffeine. One, energy drinks do not contain anywhere near 500 mgs of caffeine. A 16-oz Monster Energy drink contains approximately 160 mgs of caffeine.
“We do not believe that any of the leading coffeehouses sell 5-oz cups of coffee, including Starbucks. A small Starbucks contains 12 ounces of coffee, a medium-sized Starbucks contains 16 ounces of coffee, and its large size 20 ounces. While Starbucks also sells an 8-oz size, we believe the size has very limited sales. We note that Starbucks also sells an extra large 31-oz size.
“In making a comparison to coffee, we believe that it is appropriate to use Starbucks’ 16-oz medium-sized coffee, which is the same size as a regular 16-oz Monster Energy drink. Starbucks’ 16-oz coffee contains approximately 330 mgs of caffeine, which is double the approximate 160 mgs of caffeine in the same sized Monster Energy drink. And a 16-oz Caribou coffee contains between 305 and 370 mgs of caffeine.”
Mr. Sacks added that some people have criticized the comparison between the caffeine levels in energy beverages and coffee, because is consumed more slowly by adults. He called such criticism “misplaced” and said adolescents do drink coffee extensively.
“One only needs to visit Starbucks, Caribou or any other coffeehouse store to confirm this,” Mr. Sacks said. “It is estimated that around 350 million cups of coffee are drunk every day in the U.S. This equates to about 128 billion cups per year. According to a study done by the research firm NPD, some 13% of coffee consumers are under 18. That translates to about 45 million cups of coffee that are drunk every day by teenagers under 18, or approximately 17 billion cups per year.
“We estimate that the size of the energy drink market in the U.S. is about 5 billion cans a year. In other words, the coffee market is about 25 times bigger than the energy drink market. Even if one were to assume that a higher percentage of teenagers under 18 consume energy drinks than coffee, which we do not believe is accurate, coffee consumption in the U.S. by teens under 18 is dramatically higher than energy drinks.”
Mr. Sacks also challenged the idea that Monster drinks are marketed as dietary supplements in an effort to avoid Food and Drug Administration oversight.
“We confirmed that the company has made the decision to transition its Monster Energy drinks to conventional foods for a number of business reasons, including to eliminate a competitive disadvantage in certain states where energy drinks labeled as conventional foods, like Red Bull, are exempt from sales tax, and are also eligible for redemption with food stamps. While energy drinks labeled as dietary supplements, like Monster, are not. This change will have the effect of leveling the playing field with our major competitors.”
He said that discovery continues in the lawsuit brought by the family of Anais Fournier, a 14-year old girl who consumed two 24-oz Monster Energy drinks over a span of two days and that her parents say caused cardiac arrest and her death.
“This is a very sad situation for the family, and we sympathize with them,” he said. “However, the production of additional medical records and documents continues to confirm that there was no causal connection between Ms. Fournier’s alleged consumption of a Monster Energy drink and her death.”
For the fourth quarter, Monster Beverage earned $67,982,000, or 40c per share, a slight increase to fiscal 2011 when the company earned $64,536,000, or 37c per share. Sales for the quarter were $471,517,000, up from $409,957,000.
“While the growth of the energy drink market in the United States has softened from previous quarters, the Monster Energy brand continues to grow in excess of market growth,” Mr. Sacks said. “We are also pleased to report that in 2012 gross sales outside the United States for the company exceeded $500 million. We successfully launched the Monster Energy brand in a number of new international markets in the last few months and are continuing with new launches in 2013.”
During the year, Monster Beverage plans to introduce several new products, including Kona Cappuccino in the first half of the year as well as new line of 15-oz energy shakes called Monster Muscle that will contain 25 grams of protein per serving. The company is also in the process of launching a line extension related to its Rehab brand. The product will feature pink lemonade and tea.