The energy drink market has gotten further stimulus from club crowds who mix these functional beverages with alcohol, according to market researcher Mintel.
The analyst valued the energy drinks market at $3.2bn for 2006 and reported that more than one fourth of adult energy drink consumers combine energy drinks with alcoholic beverages.
Energy drinks have been a polemic issue for the functional foods industry when they sit on the fence between functionality and making egregious claims. While their consumption with alcohol is boosting sales, it is not likely to enhance their healthy profile.
One energy drink that has been embroiled in controversy is Enviga. Recently launched by Coca-Cola and Nestlé, the carbonated, green tea beverage was marketed with claims that it burns more calories than it provides.
In February, lawsuits were filed by consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) against both Coca-Cola and Nestlé for claiming Enviga can help consumers burn off calories.
But the largest market for such consumers mixing their energy drinks with alcohol could lie on the other side of the Pacific. In Asia - at 40 percent - the percentage of respondents mix energy drinks with alcoholic beverages.
The lowest percentage for this type of mixing was seen in black respondents, representing only 15 percent of the consumers within the overall group.
Some manufactures have ventured into capitalizing this trend by creating new functional hybrids of alcoholic beverages.
Anheuser-Busch's beer/energy drink, BE, launched in 2005 to a lukewarm response from consumers. However, Mintel claims it opened the way for other companies to launch their own hybrid beverages.
In 2006, Miller Brewing Company unveiled Mickey's Stinger - a malt drink with caffeine, guarana and taurine.
However, according to Mintel, the energy beverage stands out as the number one player in the beverage industry.
"Moreover, with its strong marketing connection to teens and young adults, the market should continue to attract a healthy number of new industry players," said David Morris, analyst for Mintel.
The association of energy drinks with youth, and now with alcohol, may not please consumer advocacy groups.
Dr Frankie Phillips of the British Dietetic Association commented to NutraIngredients.com recently that functional benefits are not likely to outweigh the effect of alcohol in such combinations of functional ingredients with alcohol.
Energy drinks are not the only functional product making the paradoxical foray into 'health alcohol'. Recent research published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture linked mixing alcohol and berries with greater antioxidant capacity.
Researchers from Kasetsart University in Thailand and the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) reported treating the berries with naturally volatile compounds such as ethanol (alcohol), methyl jasmonate, and tea-tree oil boosted antioxidant activity.