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What can we learn about energy drink consumption habits from social media?

By Elaine WATSON , 12-Feb-2013

A small minority of energy drink consumers regularly drink more than one can/shot in one sitting; the peak time for knocking back an energy drink or shot is 3-9pm; and the most popular energy drink combo is Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy.

These are just some of the insights to emerge from a new report from sentiment analysis firm Semantelli called ‘Social Media Analysis to Detect Trends in Adverse Reactions to Energy Drinks’.

The analysis used Semantelli’s proprietary AETracker software to monitor 91,143 energy drink-related conversations on Twitter, Facebook and other online forums from November 2012 through January 2013.

One significant finding of this project was that 4% of conversations involved consumers drinking a combination of more than one energy drink at a time.”

Consumers experiencing adverse reactions rarely report them to the manufacturer or the FDA

The analysis also found that people who say they have experienced adverse reactions after drinking energy drinks rarely report them to the manufacturer or the FDA,  said Semantelli, which is used by several big pharmaceutical companies to gain a deeper understanding of consumers’ interactions with their products.

Out of the 90,000+ conversations scrutinized, 597 posts referred to adverse reactions, which ranged from tremors and nausea (the two most common), to headaches, vivid dreams, dizziness and high heart rates.

'There is no proper data about what really happens with these energy drinks'

While it is important to recognize that analyzing social media conversations about any product will likely give undue emphasis to extremes of opinion/experience (people are less likely to comment if they have a  merely ordinary/satisfactory experience with a product), the data is very useful, especially as adverse reactions to these products are not being formally reported to the FDA, claimed John P. Jason VP, Sales and Marketing at Semantelli Corp.

"There is no proper data about what really happens with these energy drinks. Social media just gives a lens into some of the side effects people are experiencing... The least FDA could do is ask these companies to report adverse events."

And while the percentage of people claiming to experience adverse effects is relatively small, "relatively small numbers make for big noise", he said.

"From a marketing perspective, 'big noise', especially in the case of any product that impacts someone’s health, such as adverse events, misinformation and/or negative comments needs to be addressed."

Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy most popular combination

Dollar sales of Red Bull in all retail outlets excluding Walmart rose 12.6% in 2012, according to SymphonyIRI

For consumers that like to mix energy drinks, the most popular combinations were Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy (74%); and Monster and 5-Hour Energy (24%).

Analysis of the online conversations, which covered Red Bull, Monster Energy, 5 Hour Energy, Rockstar, NOS, Amp, Full Throttle, Xyience Xenergy and VPX Redline, revealed that the vast majority were about Red Bull (46%), Monster (36%), and 5-Hour Energy (12%), with just 6% devoted to other brands.

Energy drink/shot consumption peaks at 3-9pm

As to when energy drink users typically consume them, the peak times were between 3pm and 9pm. However, 9am-12 noon was also a popular time.

  • Rise and shine! …6am-9am: 12%
  • PEAK TIME: Mid-morning energy boost? 9am-12pm: 14%
  • Early afternoon slump... 12pm-3pm: 8%
  • PEAK TIME: Late afternoon pick-me-up... 3pm-6pm: 19%
  • PEAK TIME: Let's get the party started? 6pm-9pm: 20%
  • Late night energy boost... 9pm -12am: 7%
  • Partying? Or burning the midnight oil? 12am-3am: 10%
  • Early start or late finish? 3am-6am:  10%

The rise and rise of energy drinks

Low calorie and non-carbonated, Monster Rehab has been a huge hit

According to Packaged Facts, while energy drinks and shots still account for just 3% of non-alcoholic beverage industry sales in the US, growth has been nothing short of explosive in the past five years, and shows little sign of slowing down, with sales predicted to rise from $12.5bn in 2012 to $21.5bn in 2017.

However, the products have also attracted their fair share of controversy, with some health advocacy groups and politicians - notably Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) - calling for greater regulatory scrutiny.

According to the January 10 issue of The DAWN (Drug Abuse Warning Network) Report, energy drink related visits to emergency rooms in the US doubled from 10,068 in 2007 to 20,783 in 2011 .

While 42% of patients in energy drink related visits in 2011 reported that they had consumed a combination of energy drinks and alcohol, illegal drugs or prescription medication, the remaining 58% of cases involved energy drinks alone, said the DAWN report.

Energy drinks and ER visits: 'If you are in public health, you have a hunch that something is going on here...'

Although this did not prove that energy drinks caused adverse effects, it was potentially a cause for concern, DAWN project leader Albert Woodward told FoodNavigator-USA:  “If you’re in public health as we are, you have a hunch that something is going on here.”

However, the American Beverage Association (ABA) said the report did not include any information about the general health of the patients in question or what symptoms brought them to the ER in the first place, while it was also possible that many of the patients claiming they had only consumed energy drinks were in fact taking drugs or others medications as well.

Similarly, the report did not look at how much caffeine had been consumed by the individuals in question, or whether they had also consumed caffeine from coffee or other caffeinated products,said the ABA. 

A 16oz can of Monster Energy contains half the caffeine of a 16oz cup of coffeehouse coffee

The DAWN report also falsely claimed that energy drinks typically contain more caffeine than coffee, which is not true, said Monster Beverage Corporation , which pointed out that “a 16-ounce can of Monster Energy contains roughly half the caffeine of a 16-ounce cup of coffeehouse-brewed coffee".

Addressing a recent lawsuit filed against Monster following the death of Anais Fournier, who suffered a cardiac arrhythmia after drinking two 24oz (710ml) cans of Monster Energy in 24-hours, Monster CEO Rodney Sacks added: “The allegations in that lawsuit… are false and totally baseless and are not supported by either the science or the facts.

“The autopsy report reveals that a caffeine blood level was not performed and that her death was natural and associated with a pre-existing heart condition which by itself increased her risk of cardiac arrhythmia and sudden death.”

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