Explaining the background to patent application #20130142891 published on June 6, 2013, and filed back in December 2011, (click here), PepsiCo said: “There remains a need in the art for beverages that provide an energy-enhancing stimulatory effect but do not require high caffeine levels.”
Alleviating fatigue and enhancing sports performance
The herbal extracts in question “provide a perceivable fatigue-relieving benefit”, and “may be delivered to the consumer in beverage products and find particular use in alleviating fatigue and enhancing sports performance”, said PepsiCo, which describes a series of potential formulations from enhanced waters and carbonated beverages to juice-containing beverages.
The herbs - Duan-Geng-Wu-Jia, Gou-Qi-Zi (the Goji berry or wolfberry), and Huang-Jing (Polygonatum Root or 'Solomons Seal') - are well-known in traditional Chinese medicine and have all been widely consumed as foods, noted inventors Cai Ya, Jian JiangBo, Liu Weichang, Peng XiaoYun,and Zou MinLiang.
“Duan-Geng-Wu-Jia active ingredients are known to include saponins, flavonoids, amino acids and polysaccharides. The leaf, stem and fruit are edible… The root bark is used in one traditional medicine ‘Wu-Jia-Pi wine’ to treat rheumatism and arthralgia. Duan-Geng-Wu-Jia stem and leaf are consumed as a vegetable.”
Gou-Qi-Zi, (Goji-berry), is used in traditional Chinese medicine for treating kidney disorders, impotence and poor eyesight among other things, while Huang-Jing extracts have been used to treat multiple health problems.
Datamonitor: Patent application offers more proof that soft drinks companies are trying to reduce their reliance on caffeine as an energizing ingredient
So what do the marketing experts think? Could PepsiCo be onto a winner if it takes products using these ingredients to market?
It is not clear whether PepsiCo aims to commercialize such beverages (the company would not say what its plans were), but trendwatchers contacted by FoodNavigator-USA said caffeine-free energy is something consumers are looking for right now.
Datamonitor innovation insights director Tom Vierhile said the patent application "offers more proof that soft drinks companies are trying to reduce their reliance on caffeine as an energizing ingredient".
He added: "With caffeine showing up in everything from beef jerky and chocolate candy to chewing gum and salty snacks, there is elevated risk of over-consumption of caffeine, especially by younger consumers that may not have developed a tolerance for the ingredient. There are also growing odds that caffeine may become regulated as a product ingredient in the wake of the Wrigley Alert Energy Chewing Gum fiasco, though where that goes is unclear at the present time.
"Not only are these herbal extracts plant-based, but they lack the negative baggage that caffeine is beginning to pick up... It will be interesting to see if they show up in any new products anytime soon."
I'm excited that a powerhouse brand like PepsiCo is putting some energy into alternatives [to caffeine]
Beverly Murray, founder of branding agency R+M, said she was "excited" that a leading player such as PepsiCo was exploring alternatives to caffeine for providing energy.
"At first blush, I'm excited that a powerhouse brand like PepsiCo is putting some energy into alternatives. I do believe consumers are searching for short-cuts to do more with less thus more energy for work and play. Not that such is the healthiest path, but we as humans are hopeful."
Lori Colman, co-CEO at branding and marketing agency CBD Marketing, said: "Lots of companies (including Pepsi) have been 'investigated' by the FDA and even the state of NY for the caffeine levels so I’m sure the search is on for a replacement.
"My two cents is that the energy drink market may be on the brink of saturation following a year of explosive growth. That said, 2013 sales to date are very strong for Monster (and Monster Java) and Red Bull. Not as much for the unpromoted brands … TONS of promotions have kept Monster and Red Bull brands percolating (ha, ha).
"However, observing the younger folks in my office who are no longer seen with their Monster or Red Bull makes me think it may have been one of those categories that was heavily promoted, obtained huge trial but … more and more health concerns (not just the caffeine) have been raised which may be taking the edge off of their accelerated growth."
More than 80% of human volunteers reported a perceptible increase in energy within an hour of consumption
More than 80% of human volunteers consuming beverages containing the extracts reported a perceptible increase in energy within an hour of consumption, according to PepsiCo's patent application.
They also experienced a more sustained effect vs those consuming a ‘control’ beverage containing caffeine, taurine, lysine, inositol, and B vitamins, reporting “substantially greater energy perception up to 2 hours after beverage consumption than the other beverages”, said PepsiCo.
A series of experiments to determine the physiological effects of the extracts in various combinations was also conducted on mice.
The herbal extracts can extend endurance and reduce fatigue
The first showed that mice fed the extracts took far longer to “become exhausted during a burden swimming process, indicating that the herbal extracts can extend endurance and reduce fatigue”.
Biochemical analyses also revealed that “blood lactic acid in response to exercise was decreased in mice consuming the herbal extract” said PepsiCo. “Thus, the herbal extract may contribute to reducing fatigue and enhancing stamina by reducing lactic acid levels.”
Mice that consumed the extracts also had a lower content of serum urea, “indicating that the herbal extracts provide sustained endurance before the body begins to catabolize protein”, added PepsiCo.
Finally, glycogen stores were also higher in mice consuming the herbal extract, it said.
“Collectively, these studies establish that the herbal extract can confer relief from physical fatigue and enhance endurance.”
Click here to read the patent application in full.