I could refer to myself as a “drug addict.” The nomenclature may technically be correct, but the phrase conveys an image that greatly deviates from reality.
To be very clear: I’m not talking about a proclivity for black tar heroin, methamphetamine or any other illegal drugs. I just really like a hearty, steaming cup of coffee – or, more specifically, a hearty, steaming cup of caffeine.
I’m not alone. About half of the nation’s adults drink coffee every day. Others get their morning fix from caffeinated soft drinks and other beverages, and recent studies suggest that more than 80 percent of Americans consume some type of beverage that contains caffeine every day. It is now considered the most popular drug in the world.
Not surprisingly, producers and suppliers have capitalized upon our collective fondness for the stimulant. For example, in 1971, Starbucks opened its first store in Pike’s Place Market in Seattle, Washington. Coffee addicts and connoisseurs flocked to the outlet, and the company experienced substantial growth throughout the ensuing decades. Today, its specialty coffee is sold at over 17,000 retail locations in more than 55 countries. Caribou Coffee holds the next largest share of the specialty coffee market, but operates only around 415 stores. Hello David, meet Goliath.
The unfortunate reality is, however, that caffeine isn’t immediately effective when consumed in coffee, tea or another beverage. The average
user consumer must wait around ten minutes for the caffeine to start affecting his or her system. It takes considerably longer – around forty-five minutes – for the maximum concentration to reach the average person’s bloodstream. These 2700 seconds can seem like an eternity to tired, cranky, sleepless souls.
Still, it gets better. Most people feel the effects of caffeine long after they’ve consumed the last drop of their Grande White Chocolate Creme Frappuccino. It takes about four and a half hours for the body to metabolize a given dose of caffeine, although the duration can vary wildly among
users consumers. That’s actually a pretty long time, and its not surprising that users consumers who reach for a taste of tea in the afternoon may find themselves unable to fall asleep in the evening.
There are, however, some unfortunate folks who simply don’t like the taste of coffee or espresso, even when its flavored with peppermints and white chocolate and topped with whipped cream. They may be slightly confused, but they can still effectively enjoy the stimulating effects of a hundred or more milligrams of fuel.
Enter Manoj Bhargava, the owner of Living Essentials, LLC, the company responsible for placing the little screwtop bottles of Five Hour Energy Shots at the checkouts of seemingly every grocery store, drug store and gas station in the modern civilized world. These little guys don’t taste like coffee; instead, they’re available in flavors such as grape, berry, lemon lime, pomegranate, and orange.
Users Consumers aren’t throwing down nearly $3.00 for a single shot of the beverage for its taste. Instead, users consumers are looking for the boost, and the company claims that its two ounce product delivers:
5-hour ENERGY® contains a blend of B-vitamins, amino acids and essential nutrients. It contains zero sugar, zero herbal stimulants and four calories. The amount of caffeine varies depending on the energy shot. Original 5-hour ENERGY® contains about as much caffeine as a cup of premium coffee. Extra Strength contains about as much as 12 ounces of premium coffee, while Decaf 5-hour ENERGY® contains only as much caffeine as a half cup of decaffeinated coffee.
At least according to its label, the original product really does contain a heck of a lot of vitamins and other ingredients. It purports to contain 2000% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin B6 and over 8000% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin B12. And, of course, the company claims that this is perfectly safe.
Safe or unsafe, there’s obviously a market for the product. According to Forbes:
The privately held Living Essentials doesn’t report revenue or profits, but a source with knowledge of its financials says the company grossed north of $600 million last year on that $1 billion at retail. The source says the company netted about $300 million. Checkout scan data from research firm SymphonyIRI say that 5-Hour has 90% of the energy-shot market. Its closest competitor, NVE Pharmaceuticals’ Stacker brand, has just over 3%.
Trendy alternatives to coffee don’t begin and end with Five Hour Energy Shots or other screwtop bottles of stimulating fun. Retail outlets have now become littered with energy drinks, including Monster Energy Drinks, cans of Red Bull, Rockstar Energy Drinks, AMP Energy products and a heck of a lot of other beverages that contain proprietary blends of taurine, guarana, sugar and other wake-me-ups. They’ve become so popular that even Playboy has been distributing its own energy drink.
The market is continuing to expand beyond specialty coffee, energy shots and energy drinks, and I quickly learned to never underestimate the creativity of a dedicated entrepreneur armed with a unique idea. I therefore won’t be underestimating David Edwards, a professor at Harvard University in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He’s the proverbial new kid on the block, and he wants to revolutionize the industry.
Mr. Edwards contributed to the formation of Breathable Foods, Inc. The company is now selling AeroShot Energy, which is often described as breathable caffeine. The product is sold as a small gray cylindrical device that contains a fine powder.
Users Consumers simply need to remove its yellow cap and inhale the powder to receive a mix of caffeine, vitamins and other ingredients. Each AeroShot Energy supposedly contains the same amount of caffeine as a large cup of coffee.
That’s right: according to Mr. Edwards, percolation is passe and we’ll never need to worry about all the hassles and frustrations that come with the enjoyment of a cool or warm beverage. It’s apparently now possible to simply breathe caffeine. It’s all about efficiency, folks.
It sure sounds weird, but is it safe? According to the company, inhaling caffeine is, in fact, a safe means of delivering the stimulant into the bloodstream. Breathable Foods, Inc., even claims that it “complies with all FDA dietary supplement regulations.”
Senator Charles Shumer also believed that the product sounded weird and questioned its safety, so he requested that the FDA investigate AeroShot Energy. The agency conducted the investigation, which resulted in the issuance of a warning letter earlier this week. The warning letter questions the safety of inhaling caffeine and concludes that Breathable Foods, Inc., made false and misleading statements in the labeling of AeroShot Energy.
The FDA determined that the false and misleading statements related to inaccurate claims that the product is actually breathable or inhalable. AeroShot Energy purports to contain breathable caffeine, but the fine print suggests that the contents are actually “food” that is actually introduced through eating/ingesting and not breathing/inhaling. The contradictory statements also give rise to concerns about safety, because
users consumers who purchase the product may well attempt to follow the instructions and breathe the caffeinated power. The FDA explained as follows:
your labeling suggests in several places that AeroShot should be inhaled. Because of those suggestions, consumers may attempt to inhale your product, causing it to enter the lungs. FDA is concerned about the safety of any such use because caffeine is not typically inhaled through the lungs, and the safety of such use has not been well studied.
For what it’s worth, Tom Hadfield, the Chief Executive Officer of Breathable Foods, Inc., isn’t putting up much of a fight. He admitted that AeroShot Energy is not intended to be inhaled into the lungs. That’s pretty darn odd, though, considering the product is manufactured and sold by Breathable Foods, Inc. We can only assume that Edible Foods, Inc. was considered too redundant or that the name was already assigned to a company that was not subject to federal investigation.