Caffeine Buzz
Sarah Theodore, Editor

The growth of energy drinks during the past several years has many people asking how much caffeine is too much. So far, there seems to be no definitive answer. Most reports indicate moderate consumption of caffeine is perfectly safe, but others argue too much causes anxiety, sleeplessness, headaches, nausea and irregular heartbeat. The vast majority of American adults consume caffeine in some form, whether it’s in a morning cup of coffee, tea, soft drink or even chocolate. But it is hyperactive sales in the energy drink category that has brought caffeine consumption to the forefront.
Last month, New York City councilman Simcha Felder proposed a resolution that would require companies to indicate caffeine content on labels. Companies currently are required to list caffeine as an ingredient but they do not have to state the amount of caffeine in the product. Shortly after Felder’s proposal, Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola both announced they would list the caffeine content of their products. The announcements were not necessarily in response to the proposal — both companies said it is part of an industry-wide initiative to give consumers more information — but the timing shows how prevalent the topic has become.
As part of that industry-wide initiative, the American Beverage Association, Washington D.C., published voluntary guidelines for caffeine labeling that suggest the information should be separate from the ingredient statement, the nutrition facts panel and all other information on the panel. The content would be listed in milligrams per serving as well as per package if the nutrition label also includes per-package information.
This is one of those cases in which changing the labeling can only benefit the companies that provide the information — at least the ones that include reasonable and responsible amounts of caffeine. Consumers looking to avoid the ingredient can more easily determine which products to buy, and the growing number of consumers who are in search of a caffeine kick also can find what they want.
More importantly, energy drinks are part of the entire industry’s march toward functionality, which has created excitement, but has the potential to create confusion and skepticism unless there is a little more transparency when it comes to ingredients. According to Information Resources Inc., twice as many 2006 New Product Pacesetters — those that achieved sales of at least $7.5 million in their launch year — offered added nutrients, compared with the 2005 Pacesetters. And the introductions so far this year show no slowdown in sight. If the industry is going to base so many of its new products on functional claims — whether they be increased energy or added vitamins and minerals — it ought to be willing to let consumers know exactly what, and how much, they are getting.
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