Energy shots are pocket-sized bottles with names like 6 Hour Power, Nitro2Go and ZipFizz that are packed with caffeine, stimulants and blends of vitamins and herbs. They claim to keep those who drink them amped up for hours. Their makers pitch them as a youthful tonic when coffee just isn't enough.
Some teens down the shots to focus and stay awake while studying. For truckers, the two-ounce serving size means fewer pit stops.
Now, the shots are appealing to a growing number of people over 60 who aren't ready to slow down with age. At the Raleigh Costco, cases of energy shots are stacked beside Ensure nutrition shakes and across from tubes of wrinkle cream.
Living Essentials of Farmington Hills, Mich., which makes 5-Hour Energy, initially built sales by targeting students and people who work long hours, like cops. But when CEO Manoj Bhargava heard that aging Baby Boomers were increasingly buying energy shots, he looked to them for the company's next sales jolt.
Last October, the company handed out thousands of samples at the annual AARP convention in Orlando. The company was amazing to see the number of people who took it right there and then.
In January, 5-Hour began running full-page ads in the AARP Bulletin, which is delivered to 22 million households. The ad shows John Ratzenberger, best known as postman Cliff Clavin on "Cheers," holding a bicycle. "Getting older is fine," says the 64-year-old Mr. Ratzenberger. "But not having the energy to do the things I enjoy isn't."
5-Hour sales teams call on doctors, giving them coupons to pass out to older patients. Staffers tells physicians that 5-Hour's main ingredients appear naturally in foods and include niacin, often prescribed to lower cholesterol, and citicoline, used in some countries to fight dementia.
5-Hour Energy created the energy shot trend seven years ago and dominates the market, with a nearly 80% share. Annual sales of 5-Hour Energy total about $1 billion.
Mr. Bhargava says he isn't worried about the brand losing its cachet with young people, since it has always had cheesy commercials and a non-cool name.
NVE Pharmaceuticals, the market's second-biggest player with a 5% share, is also reaching out to older adults by advertising on the Learning Channel and the Discovery Channel instead of just MTV and Comedy Central.
Sold as dietary supplements, energy shots don't require Food and Drug Administration approval. A study in the journal Pediatrics in February warned that consumption of too many energy drinks can give children heart palpitations, seizures and other problems.
AARP says its health consultants vetted 5-Hour before allowing the company to advertise at its convention and in its publications. AARP refuses ads for controversial products such as reverse mortgages and tobacco, but found nothing worrisome about 5-hour Energy.
Energy-shot makers generally don't confirm the precise amount of caffeine in their shots, but a recent review found a 5-Hour shot has 207 milligrams of caffeine, while a tall-sized Starbucks coffee has about 260 milligrams. Another report said the caffeine would likely provide a lift but there was little if any research showing the other ingredients would help.
One geriatrician says she's a skeptic. Most adults get more than enough of the B vitamins and other nutrients found in energy shots, so any extras are just excreted from the body, she says. She claims medically and physiologically that it doesn't hold water.
Other skeptics say that older adults can get more energy by eating right and exercising, not by guzzling excessive amounts of caffeine. A well balanced diet will give you extended energy where the energy drinks just give you a caffeine rush.
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