The latest buzz: more jolts Caffeine: It's always been in colas and coffee, but now, even water carries a rush to willing consumers.

February 12, 1997|By Julie Sevrens | Julie Sevrens,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

The drug is consumed daily on elementary school campuses. It's hidden in candy bars and even in headache medicines.

It's for sale -- cheap -- in all 50 states.

And many manufacturers are rushing to lace their beverages with the stimulant.

"There's no question, Americans have come back to caffeine. It is a trend with a capital T," says Tom Pirko, president of the New York-based Bevmark, a consulting firm to the food-and-beverage industries.

Once found primarily in coffee, caffeine is being pumped into everything from plain water to sweet ice-cream treats. And Americans are eating -- and drinking -- it up.

That's why you'll soon see Surge, the "fully loaded citrus soda" on store shelves next to XTC, which promises "power unlimited."

Or down the aisle from Jolt, "America's Most Powerful Cola," you can find Celestial Seasonings' "Fast Lane Tea" for those days "when your brain's fried but you need to stay in high gear."

"There is no doubt that the consumers today are showing a dramatically increased demand for caffeine-enhanced products and/or products that contain a boost," says C. J. Rapp, president of Global Beverage Co., the producers of Jolt Cola, who announced recently they are adding XTC, a caffeinated power drink, to their beverage lineup.

"Exhaustion is a part of everyone's life, and the desire for exhilaration or a boost is quite natural."

And, so, increasingly, the beverage industry is packaging that boost in a bottle.

Take, for instance, Water Joe, an odor-free, flavor-free, acid-free, carbonation-free blend of artesian water chock full o' caffeine. Conceived by a former Arizona college student who needed help pulling all-nighters, it hit Midwest markets in late 1995 and is today selling 400,000 bottles a week nationwide.

The 16.9-ounce bottles contain 70 milligrams of caffeine, about the same as a five-ounce cup of instant coffee.

"When I was in college, I didn't like the taste of coffee or colas but I needed to stay awake to study," says David Marcheschi, the creator of Water Joe.

And so now his company, the Chicago-based Water Concept, sends a driver from campus to campus extolling the virtues of caffeinated water.

"When it's hot out, the last thing you want is a cup of coffee. You want something cool and refreshing," Marcheschi says.

His idea has caught on.

Global Beverage Co. put Krank20, another caffeinated water product, on the market six months ago. The Pepsi-Cola Co. jumped on the caffeine bandwagon last May when it began test-marketing Pepsi Kona, a coffee-cola product, in Philadelphia.

And Coca-Cola has a new addition to its family. Surge, a bright-green caffeinated citrus soda, started hitting select stores Jan. 13. Initial shipments were sent to Texas, Colorado, Ohio, Missouri, Florida, Georgia, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Coca-Cola admits that it created the product in hopes of being a hit with its prime market: "active youths and hard-working young adults." During its first month of introduction, free samples of Surge will be distributed to more than 5 million teens.

"There are a lot of people that enjoy having just a little bit extra and this is one way they can get that," says Mart Martin, a company spokesman.

It remains one of many.

Starbucks Coffee Co. teamed up with the Red Hook Brewery last year to produce Double Black Stout, a "coffee-enhanced" dark beer.

Baskin-Robbins offers two coffee beverages, the Cappuccino Blast and the Mocha Blast, both introduced in 1994. (And with each containing 235 milligrams of caffeine, they contain a hefty blast of the stimulant -- about the equivalent of four cups of instant coffee.)

Even Gatorade, best known for its sports drinks, toyed with caffeinated drinks for a time. It sold its SunBolt Energy Drink for little more than six months in Boston, New York and Washington before discontinuing the product.

It wasn't that it tasted bad or wasn't selling, says P. J. Sinopoli, director of communications for Gatorade Co.

"It was not even close to a sports drink," says Sinopoli. "It was very high in carbohydrates and very high in caffeine, both of which would not be recommended for a sports drink."

So when is the beverage industry expected to slow down the caffeine craze? Not any time soon, says Bevmark's Pirko.

"It's a generational change, it's not a fad. It's coming into full bloom and it's really accelerating."

Pub Date: 2/12/97

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