Are natural sweeteners the next evolution of better-for-you energy drinks? SPINS shares insights

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Energy drink better for you Natural sweeteners

Energy drinks might be on the cusp of the next better-for-you evolution, which will see natural sweeteners gain over sugar and artificial alternatives, as the market overall continues to see high demand and strong unit growth, Scott Dicker, market insight director for SPINS, shared with FoodNavigator-USA.

"Year over year, we're still up double digits in sales, and it's growing in units," Dicker said. "Energy drinks have remained a really innovative category that we're seeing really adding more customers, and you can tell just by walking into any store now, any gas station, any convenience store, all the way up to your conventional retailers that the variety that they're offering now has really exploded."

Better-for-you trend to continue into 2024, natural sweeteners trend to watch

Over the last several years, the better-for-you energy drink categories have grown with entries like Celsius, Alani Nu, and others, and likely will continue to expand into the foreseeable future, Dicker said.

“Most of the trends that we've been seeing this year, and for the record, probably the last two, three years, those are going to continue. I don't see them slowing down.” 

Looking into next year and beyond, energy drink brands that have been known for their high sugar content and artificial sweeteners might start to lean on more natural sweeteners. 

“I'm looking very heavily at sweeteners, most of the major energy drink brands that are finding the most success are still using either lots of sugar or artificial sweeteners. I think as we move to the next level of better-for-you there's going to be an opportunity for more natural sweeteners," Dicker explained.

Shaking up the better-for-you energy drink space

Celsius is a brand that has captured demand for better-for-you energy drinks and gained more market share, revealing that it has reached $1bn brand status​ this year. 

Celsius' distribution "has been really incredible... Over a decade ago, I was working at The Vitamin Shoppe, and they were in the coolers there, and so these types of drinks were only in coolers at specialty stores, and now we see them again at every gas station, every convenience store, every mainstream retailer."

While new entries are vying for market share, legacy energy drink brands like Monster are securing share by expanding into these better-for-you offerings. Recently, Monster acquired its former rival Bang, and Bang was “one of the first ones out there that really disrupted, even before Celsius,” Dicker said.

"It'll be interesting how those two brands come together. I imagine that they'll probably limit some of the flavors... Bang had a very expensive flavor offering," Dicker said. "If anyone can incorporate them in, I'm sure Monster can do a good job, but it remains to be seen. They have a very impressive whole portfolio of energy drinks." 

Another relative newcomer to the space is PRIME, which experienced backlash due to its caffeine content and its appeal to younger consumers. While PRIME might add extra warnings on its caffeine content, Dicker noted its caffeine level is comparable to many other brands on the market.  

A 12-ounce serving of PRIME has "200 milligrams of caffeine, which is similar to almost all these performance energy drinks there are right around there, so it's interesting to me that they were the one that were singled out,” Dicker said. “My personal opinion is that it was a little overblown, given that... there [are] some energy drinks that are as high as 300 [milligrams], and even your morning Starbucks can be over 200 milligrams of caffeine.” 

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