Today’s energy drink industry trends reflect changing tastes and preferences among consumers. Newcomers to the market are also bringing exciting innovations. Emily Newton lists today’s top five trends shaping the energy drinks industry.
The energy drink industry is amid exciting growth while facing a few key challenges. More and more young people are buying energy drinks as the market diversifies its offerings and messaging. What should food and beverage professionals know about today’s top five trends shaping the energy drink industry?
Top Trends shaping the energy drink industry
One of the biggest trends in the energy drink industry today is addressing the controversy over the marketing of energy drinks to young people. Young men — typically in their late teens, 20s and 30s — are historically the leading demographic of energy drinks. However, the line between marketing toward teenagers and 20-somethings can be very blurry.
Marketing energy drinks to minors has long been a complicated issue. As of 2023, there is no legal minimum age to buy an energy drink in the U.S. or any kind of ban on selling them to minors. However, there are restrictions in place in other countries. For example, a ban is in development in the U.K. that would restrict energy drink sales to people over 16 years old.
Over the past year, the issue of whether or not young people should be allowed to buy energy drinks has gained more attention. Numerous leading medical boards worldwide recommend children and teenagers should not consume energy drinks. However, over 30% of teens report consuming caffeinated energy drinks weekly.
As a result, the energy drink industry finds itself in a difficult position. The teen demographic clearly shows enthusiasm, but beverage companies have a responsibility to avoid encouraging unsafe behaviours. In a worst-case scenario, a business could find itself in a lawsuit if energy drink consumption leads to a serious medical issue for a minor. However, marketing to young adults without attracting children’s attention is complicated in today’s market.
Social media is arguably the most powerful channel for reaching the young-adult demographic. Nearly all teens report using at least one social media platform today, with 95% using YouTube regularly, followed by TikTok and Instagram. These platforms are extremely popular with advertisers and influencers, and all boast incredibly effective recommendation algorithms.
Social media makes it easier than ever to reach a particular audience based on their demonstrated interests. Recommendation algorithms have become exceedingly adept at identifying the users most likely to be interested in a product. Plus, if a beverage gains traction among a certain demographic, trends can pop up online surrounding that drink.
The issue is beverage companies don’t have much control over their marketing campaigns’ trajectory on social media. If teens engage most with a particular type of messaging, recommendation algorithms will show ads to those users more.
Additionally, teens are maturing faster than previous generations, meaning younger teens are aspiring to be more like their older peers at a lower age. As a result, content marketed toward older teens and young adults can also have unintended sway among younger kids. If the energy drink industry wants to stick to marketing toward adults only, marketers need to understand this issue and work to find solutions.
A key example of the difficulties facing energy drink marketing today is the controversy surrounding Prime Hydration. Launched in 2022, Prime Hydration is backed by two massively popular Internet personalities — Logan Paul and KSI. Both influencers’ main audience demographic is boys and young men.
Paul and KSI have leveraged their platforms on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and other social media channels to promote Prime energy drinks over the past year. The result has been staggering. Prime energy drinks have grown into an international phenomenon among young people to the point where stores often struggle to get the drinks in stock.
Prime Hydration is a perfect example of a few other key trends in the energy drink industry today, including a greater focus on healthy ingredients and supplements. However, it’s facing controversy now over the high amount of caffeine in its energy drinks, which is considered unsafe for children. Prime bottles and cans have age warnings on them, but this has done little to slow the explosive popularity of the brand among teenagers.
In fact, schools all over the world have begun banning Prime energy drinks, with some even implementing blanket bans on all energy beverages. It is a perfect example of how the benefits and challenges of marketing energy drinks on social media can collide. Energy drink companies must innovate their social media marketing strategies to prevent similar controversy.
2. New Approaches to Branding
Historically, energy drinks have been marketed toward young men almost exclusively. That’s starting to change as interest in energy beverages expands to new markets. To take advantage of this growth, beverage companies use new branding approaches to connect with audiences.
Several examples of this trend can be found in the many newcomers to the energy drink market. For example, supplement company Alani Nu sells an increasingly popular energy drink line for young women. The cans feature fun, colourful designs with flavours like “Cosmic Stardust” and “Dream Float.”
While young women are likely to be put off by the darker aesthetics of a typical Monster or Rockstar can, Alani Nu’s drinks appeal to a sense of fun and fitness. The beverages are also advertised to speak to people with that fitness mindset. They include features like zero sugar, vegan ingredients, gluten-free ingredients and B vitamins like Biotin.
GHOST Energy is similarly positioned but targets both men and women. Its branding sits somewhere between Alani Nu and Rockstar. The business markets it as the drink young people might choose over another fitness-focused energy drink like Red Bull.
GHOST also differentiates itself by advertising its commitment to transparency. It helps counteract the narrative that energy drink companies hide facts about their ingredients or mislead consumers.
Even long-time leaders in the energy drink market are shifting their strategies to break into new demographics. For example, Red Bull and Rockstar now have Organic and sugar-free energy drinks in their lineup. Monster Energy also has a green tea-based offering — Monster Energy Dragon.
This expanding variety in energy drink marketing and branding will likely continue over the coming years. Despite economic downturns, energy drinks have remained popular — largely due to an emerging reputation as an “affordable luxury.”
3. Crossover Between Supplement and Energy Drinks
A growing interest in supplement-focused beverages is part of the diversification happening in the energy drink industry. Nutritional and energy drinks are seeing more crossover, marketing to consumers’ desire to prioritize healthy food. Great examples of nutrition-focused energy drink organizations include Prime Hydration, Alani Nu and GHOST Energy.
The shift in marketing is also changing how energy beverages are sold, shelved and labelled. While most energy drinks are still sold with the nutrition facts label, some brands are shifting to the supplement facts label. However, beverage companies must be careful about how they market their energy drinks since the FDA has specific requirements for the supplement facts label.
The shifting focus toward nutrition reflects broader changes among consumers. Surveys show 50% of Americans claim they actively try to eat healthy. However, nutrition is still viewed as somewhat of a luxury, with 46% of Americans saying healthy food is “too expensive.” There’s demand for nutritious foods, but consumers are looking for a low price and good value.
Energy drinks are well-positioned to meet that need. A single can typically cost only two or three dollars and offers an energy boost in addition to vitamins and nutrients. Increasing the nutritional value of energy drinks can help beverage enterprises lean into this trend even more.
Prime Hydration is actually a great example of one beverage company making a mark on the nutritional energy drink trend. While Prime Energy drinks are often marketed in an athletics context, they are positioned as more of a general nutrition-focused beverage. In fact, there is even a hydration-only version of the Prime Energy lineup that contains no caffeine.
Prime’s marketing also puts the nutrition features of the energy drinks front and centre. For example, the beverages contain BCAA, electrolytes, antioxidants and B vitamins — all of which are prominently advertised on every bottle.
The shifting emphasis on health isn’t just limited to newcomers to the market, either. Energy drink leaders are also trying to cash in on health trends. For example, Rockstar Energy has an organic, sugar-free flavour called “Island Fruit.” The can design even attempts to appeal to the “all-natural” audience with a woodgrain background and green accents.
4. Lifestyle- vs. Athletics-Focused Energy Drinks
Energy drinks are seeing more separation between the lifestyle and athletics niches today. Both are experiencing growth, but that is occurring with increasingly different demographics. This may be due in part to shifting interests among young people. For example, some sports that traditionally advertise energy drinks aren’t as popular with Gen Z teens. Activities like skateboarding, boxing and dancing tend to hold more sway than motorsports.
Social media may also play a role in this shift since it created many new advertising channels with little or nothing to do with sports. For example, influencers have become huge proponents of energy drinks. This is the case with Prime Hydration as well as ZOA Energy, which was co-founded by actor and influencer Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Additionally, young people have other priorities that an energy drink can be part of beyond just sports. Getting into a good college is paramount for today’s teens, meaning many hours of studying. Energy drinks offer an alternative to coffee for young people focused on homework and productivity.
All these factors combine to create a new impression of the energy drink market. Energy drinks are no longer something primarily for athletes. In fact, the growth of the nutrition-focused energy drink niche is the result of development in the market beyond athletics-centered beverages.
That is still an important niche, though. As energy drinks have gained more broad appeal, athletics-focused beverages are doubling down on their fitness benefits and positioning. It can be seen in the growing popularity of energy drinks containing BCAA, which can help promote muscle recovery and growth.
Market leaders are also taking steps to join the diversification into the lifestyle and athletics niches. For example, in 2019, Monster created a new line of energy drinks called Reign Storm. The new lineup markets itself as “Total Body Fuel”, and the cans don’t contain any Monster logos, although including BCAA aminos is prominently advertised. The marketing for Reign focuses on workout culture and sports performance.
Traditionally, coffee is seen as the main rival of energy drinks. That separation is beginning to fade today as beverage businesses seek to blend coffee and energy drinks. Interestingly, this is occurring from both sides of the divide, with coffee companies attempting to break into the energy drink market and vice versa.
For example, Starbucks sells a line of canned coffee-based drinks called Doubleshot Energy. Monster also has a line of “Java Monster” coffee-based energy drinks. Both beverages blend the two niches but are marketed to appeal to different demographics.
What is driving interest in coffee-based energy drinks? The popularity is likely due to a combination of taste and perception. Certain demographics prefer the fruity taste of traditional energy drinks, while others prefer coffee’s more warm, bitter flavour. By bringing one flavour to the opposite market, consumers can get the convenience and boost of an energy drink while maintaining the coffee taste.
Additionally, coffee is generally viewed as a more “professional” beverage. It has long been normalized and even encouraged in professional environments. However, energy drinks don’t always convey the same ideas of productivity and focus. For example, one manager comments, “…when you picture [a] ‘polished professional,’ you don’t picture a can of Red Bull on their desk.”
The unfortunate downside to marketing energy drinks heavily toward young men and athletes is it has alienated working professionals and most adults. Organizations can break down some of those perception barriers by shifting to coffee-based energy drinks.
Coffee can also be seen as more “organic” or “natural” since consumers associate it with one specific plant. This is especially true in cases where beverage enterprises advertise their supply chain and demonstrate transparency about sourcing their coffee beans. Consumers can connect with an entire international journey from coffee bean farms to their mugs. In contrast, energy drinks are traditionally seen as more manufactured.
Mixing coffee and energy drinks may help shift some negative perceptions and connect with a broader audience. For example, women may be more likely to try a coffee-based energy drink than a typical Monster or Rockstar can.
Today’s energy drink industry trends reflect changing tastes and preferences among consumers. Overall, those changes are definitely in favour of the energy drink industry. A broader spectrum of consumers is buying energy drinks and connecting with beverage businesses today.
Newcomers to the market are also bringing exciting innovations, like online influencer marketing and a greater emphasis on nutrition. However, the beverage industry must address the controversy surrounding the marketing of energy drinks to children — a core challenge today.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over six years experience writing for the food and beverage industry.