Friday, January 16, 2009

The End of Alcohol Energy Drinks(?) And The Quiet Death of Zima

A week before Christmas MillerCoors issued this press release, and voluntarily pulled their alcoholic energy drink Sparks from the market. This follows a similar move by AB last year, in which that company reformulated their Tilt brand. With the two biggies voluntarily bowing out, this could be the end of alcoholic energy drinks. At least, for a few years...

What's interesting about this is that the breweries voluntarily agreed to reformulate the product due to pressure applied by state AGs, though they were not currently breaking any laws. Certainly any state could easily amend their regulations to prohibit pre-mixed caffeinated alcohol drinks, but that wasn't the case here. The big debate currently in alcohol law is whether and to what extent the "old" values of temperance and control still apply, and to what extent the free market should be allowed to take over. These drinks are products of the new millenium, and the question arises, "We have caffeinated soft drinks. We have malt-beverages. Why exactly can't we combine them?" The answer seems to be less in the black-letter law and in the original spirit of post-prohibition regulation: caution, and restraint. The jury is still out on the combined health and safety effects of alcohol and caffeine, but consumption of these beverages does seem to indicate a tendency toward excess. Particularly in the younger demographic. Which makes the states wary...

One gets the feeling from the press release, and a Sparks FAQ still up on the web (note to companies: "removing current content" from the website does not make it go away altogether...) that their big concern is that they will be prosecuted for marketing the product to underage consumers, hence the repeated denials of any such conduct. The fact that these energy drinks are quite popular among the highschool and college set certainly is a liability for them in that respect. It's interesting that Miller agreed to pay over $500,000 to the AGs to settle the matter, and is illustrative of the gun-shy tendencies of producers faced with the sortof legislative netherworld that alcohol advertising exists in.

On a similar malt-beverage note: in the last few months Zima went quietly into that good night. Not exactly breaking news, but I've been meaning to mention it. Zima will go down in history as a perfect example of what can go both right and wrong when introducing a new alcoholic beverage, and how companies should adapt to the demos that embrace their product, not try to force the product on an uninterested group. If men think Zima is a laughable girly drink, don't try to convince them to drink it. Here's a much better article on the subject from Slate. Here's another fun one, in which it's argued that the discontinuation will allow MillerCoors to "focus on more preferred brands like Sparks".


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The Twentyfirst Amendment Meets the 21st Century by Russell Hews Everett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. The opinions expressed on this page are purely my own, and should not be taken to constitute legal representation or advice.