Monster Beverage c.e.o. defends energy drinks' safety

by Jeff Gelski
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CORONA, CALIF. – Recent comments questioning the safety and caffeine content of energy drinks compare to how a U.S. Department of Agriculture chemist criticized Coca-Cola 100 years ago, said Rodney Sacks, chairman and chief executive officer of Corona-based Monster Beverage Corp., in a Dec. 11 investors’ meeting.

Mr. Sacks showed a Good Housekeeping cartoon from 1912 in which Harvey Wiley warned the public of possible indigestion, nervousness and addiction from drinking Coca-Cola.

“What is happening now is neither new nor unique,” Mr. Sacks said.

Generations ago advertisements for soft drinks such as Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper, Pepsi and 7UP promoted them as energy drinks, he said. The 10, 2 and 4 once found on the Dr Pepper bottle stood for a “pick-me-up” at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

“In all of these ads, the common feature, as they describe the position of their soft drinks, is providing energy,” Mr. Sacks said.

In 2012 senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, as well as House of Representatives member Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, have requested the Food and Drug Administration investigate the safety and advertising of energy drinks.

The F.D.A. previously has said it is investigating adverse health reports associated with people who drank 5-Hour Energy products (including 13 deaths), Monster Energy products (including 5 deaths) and Rockstar energy products. The reports do not represent any conclusion by the F.D.A. about whether the products caused the adverse events, according to the agency.

Mr. Sacks said Monster Beverage has communicated with the F.D.A. and shared data, including third-party scientific literature.

Mr. Sacks also spoke about taurine and guarana, two energy drink ingredients called into question by senators Durbin and Blumenthal.

“There’s been some talk about, ‘What are these ingredients, and what is their mystique and what are they?’” Mr. Sacks said.

He pointed out the F.D.A. searched literature and found nothing that questioned the safety of taurine and guarana. He said all the ingredients in Monster Energy are either approved as food additives or Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS).

“People refer to these ingredients, and perhaps in many instances are not quite sure what they are, but yet jump to conclusions, usually without a scientific or a factual basis for them,” Mr. Sacks said.

Monster Energy products generally contain about 10 mg of caffeine per oz from all caffeine sources, he said. Coffee sold at coffee houses such as Starbucks may contain 20 mg of caffeine per oz.

“Our products are just as safe for consumers as a cup of coffee purchased at your favorite coffee house,” Mr. Sacks said.

Tens of billions of energy drinks have been consumed safely over the past 25 years, including 8 billion Monster Energy drinks since 2002, Mr. Sacks said.

“Once again, and first and foremost, we reiterate that our products are safe,” he said.

Monster Beverage on Dec. 11 reported strong financial results for the third quarter ended Sept. 30. Net income of $86.1 million, or 47c per share, marked a 5% increase from $82.4 million, or 44c per share, in the previous year’s third quarter. Net sales increased 14% to $541.9 million from $474.7 million.

Early in calendar year 2013 the company plans to introduce Monster Energy in a smaller 8-oz can and promote products that feature both energy and protein.

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