Supercharged snacks

by Eric Schroeder
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Mention "energy" when discussing the food and beverage industry and the first image that may come to mind is a caffeine-infused drink such as Red Bull, Monster or Rockstar. For the past few years that imagery has been spot on, and energy drinks remain king of the category, churning sales of nearly $845 million in the 52-week period ended April 20, according to Information Resources, Inc., Chicago. That represented a 20% dollar sales gain year-over-year.

Recently, energy drink brands have begun evolving into energy colas and vice versa. PepsiCo, Inc., Purchase, N.Y., experienced strong initial sales for Diet Pepsi Max, a product that offers ginseng in addition to caffeine. In response, Austria-based energy drink leader Red Bull GmbH plans to capitalize on the success of its energy drink brand by introducing Red Bull Cola in seven countries during the next several months, a move it hopes will help it compete for share in the soda drink market. A U.S. launch is set for June.

But beverage manufacturers aren’t the only ones getting a kick out of caffeine. Food companies are no longer willing to sit idly by and watch beverage companies reap all the rewards of a nation fixated on an energy pick-me-up.

According to Mintel Global New Products Database, 70 new food products with "energy" in the product description were launched in the United States between Jan. 1 and May 5. This pace compared with 127 products in all of 2007 and 135 in 2006. Leading the charge so far in 2008 have been products identified as snacks (42), followed by confectionery (16) and breakfast cereals (7).

Breaking it down further, Mintel said 29 products have been introduced thus far in 2008 with "energy" in the product name. This compared with 61 in 2007 and 89 in 2006.

In its "Times & Trends" report titled "Consumer Trend Watch 2008: Shifting Consumer Expectations are Changing the Game," I.R.I. identified energy as one of eight key trends to watch this year. I.R.I. said the trends "will deliver new growth potential for consumer packaged goods manufacturers and retailers in 2008 and beyond," adding that "capitalizing on this potential will require early market entrance, a new level of consumer education, and close collaboration among industry partners."

I.R.I. noted energy is "permeating nearly every aspect of consumers’ lives: from beverages to snacks to personal care, consumers are gravitating to products that give them an added boost."

"Consumers appear to be very open to new energy delivery systems, opening up myriad new product and marketing opportunities," I.R.I. said.

Caffeine-infused chips

A new market of penetration for energy products appears to be taking shape in the form of snack chips. Late last month Rudolph Foods Company, Inc., New York, introduced Engobi, which the company said is code for Energy Go Bites.

Available in two flavors — Cinnamon Surge and Lemon Lift — the snack chips contain 140 mg of caffeine in each 1.5-oz single-serving bag. According to Rudolph, the caffeine content is about the same as a cup of brewed coffee and approximately 70% higher than most energy drinks.

"Engobi rockets the act of snacking to an exciting level," said Mark Singleton, vice-president of sales at Rudolph.

The new chips, which contain 220 calories, 270 mg of sodium and 11 grams of fat per serving, are available nationwide for a suggested retail price of $1.29 per bag.

While Rudolph promotes Engobi as "the market’s first caffeine-infused munchie," in reality Birmingham, Ala.-based Golden Flake Snack Foods Inc. beat it to the punch with the introduction last year of NRG potato chips.

Available in two flavors — Phoenix Fury and Overload — NRG chips come with the caution label "Not recommended for pregnant or nursing women, young children or anyone who is sensitive to caffeine."

Golden Flake, which also manufactures tortilla chips, corn chips, cheese curls and pork skins, won’t disclose exactly how much caffeine is in the chips, only saying the amount in a 3.5-oz bag is roughly the equivalent of drinking three and a half cups of brewed coffee. The chips also are available in 1.75-oz bags.

In addition to caffeine, each bag of NRG chips prominently touts the product as a source of B vitamins and taurine. An amino acid, taurine is commonly used as a functional food in many energy drinks.

Supercharged seeds, Snickers

"Consumers’ quest for an energy boost is moving way beyond beverages." The comment, put forth by I.R.I. in its "Times & Trends" report, is strikingly evident in one of the more unusual vehicles for energy delivery.

Dakota Valley Products, Inc., Willow Lake, S.D., last year introduced Sumseeds, sunflower seeds infused with energy supplements, caffeine, taurine, lysine and ginseng. When they were first launched in January 2007, Original Sumseeds became the first nut confection to include the energy boosting components. Late last year, the company added three new flavors to its line: dill pickle, honey BBQ and salt and pepper.

John Mollison of The Runway Company, the marketing company representing Dakota Valley, said the concept of the sunflower seeds developed out of a brainstorming session that was centered on finding new uses for existing foods.

"The idea was to determine how to take existing natural products and apply them to current trends," Mr. Mollison said. He said the process Dakota Valley uses to infuse its sunflower seeds is patent-applied for, and unlike some products where masking the caffeine taste may be an issue, the process used to infuse Sumseeds "is very friendly to flavoring."

"The thing about Sumseeds is this product does retain its healthful benefits," Mr. Mollison said. "It is different from canned energy drinks. The process doesn’t destroy the nutritional value of the sunflower seed, and really is a blend of energy with the good benefits of sunflower seeds."

Sumseeds are available in 1.75-oz and 3.5-oz bags, and are distributed nationwide at convenience stores.

Candy bars traditionally have served as an outlet for a quick energy fix, but Mars Snackfood U.S. took it one step further earlier this year with the debut of Snickers Charged, a candy bar with an added 60 mg of caffeine along with 250 mg of taurine and B vitamins.

"Snickers Charged offers consumers a bar of substance and a delicious and satisfying way to tackle the afternoon hours when one needs to ‘re-power,’" said Michele Kessler, vice-president of marketing, Mars Snackfood U.S.

The 1.83-oz single pack candy bar is available in select food, mass, club, convenience and drug stores and retails for 65c.

Caffeine controversy?

Researchers, government weigh impact of consumption

Even as myriad new energy products enter the marketplace, the reaction to whether the trend is a good thing remains a mixed bag.

Numerous scientific studies have been undertaken to determine the impact of caffeine and health. In late March, the International Food Information Council Foundation released a review titled "Caffeine & Health: Clarifying the Controversies," a report the group hoped will clear some of the confusion regarding caffeine, a key ingredient in many energy products.

In its executive summary, the IFIC noted that moderate intake of 300 mg per day of caffeine "does not cause adverse health effects in healthy adults, although some groups, including those with hypertension and the elderly, may be more vulnerable." In short, the council claimed that despite some undesirable, but mild, short-lived symptoms experienced by regular consumers of caffeinated beverages who stop consuming caffeine, "there is little evidence of health risks of caffeine consumption."

The IFIC went on to report that some evidence suggests health benefits exist for adults who consume moderate amounts of caffeine, such as reduced risk of diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver disease and colorectal cancer.

An area of contention in recent months has been the impact of caffeine consumption on children. In its report, the IFIC noted scientific reviews and specific studies on caffeine show daily consumption of 300 mg per day is safe even for young children, but pointed out that the growing energy drink segment "is a category to monitor for consumption in the coming years."

Assemblyman Ralph R. Caputo of New Jersey, meanwhile, wants to put a stop to energy drink consumption among minors. Mr. Caputo is in the process of drafting legislation that would put high-caffeine energy drinks into the same restricted category as alcohol and tobacco. The legislation, which Mr. Caputo plans to introduce later this month, also would contain an education component, requiring the dangers associated with caffeine abuse to be included in classroom discussions on drug and alcohol abuse.

"Mega dosing on caffeine may be trendy, but it also can create serious health complications in children when abused," Mr. Caputo said. "Caffeine, like in all things, should be taken in moderation."

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, May 13, 2008, starting on Page 25. Click here to search that archive.

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