Do Caffeine & Alcohol Mix?

There is a debate going on around the world between governments, health officials, drinks manufactures, retailers and consumers as to the relative merits of mixing caffeine or stimulant drinks and alcohol; and it’s an area where health bodies and governments are having some ‘success’ in legislating.

Most recently the US has banned all packaged drinks which mix the two, making them very unpopular amongst the college crowd, where these types of drinks were a favoured tipple. Click Here for full story.

So should Buckfast and Red Bull and Vodka follow?

The key is to work out where the harm really lies and although there has been some scientific evidence to suggest that the effect of mixing a depressant (alcohol) with a stimulant (caffeine) masks the effects of the depressant and can in turn lead to health and behavioural problems; to date I have not seen anything 100% convincing from either side of the argument.

Anyone who has worked in the late night licensed economy over the last 10 years will concur that ‘stimulant’ drinks will lead to behavioural issues; much like giving sugar to children. However much as you’ll never persuade parents, despite scientific studies to the contrary, that giving children sugar is not the reason they go wild, few licensees will argue that vodka and stimulant drinks don’t have an effect.

But these are both simplistic arguments and there is, as always, more to it than this. According to this article (I have never seen the product myself) Four Loko, the drink which was removed from the shelves in its caffeine & alcohol form in the US, is still on the shelves in its caffeine free form. Four Loko contains 12% abv (alcohol by volume) and cans are 694ml; so to put it another way the equivalent strength to the average wine and packaged in a can containing almost the same volume as the average bottle of wine….

So let’s put the argument in a slightly different way, would anyone defend the prospect of selling wine in a can when culturally cans are seen as a one-time consumption product. That is to say we buy and open a can on the assumption that it is going to be consumed by one person in one sitting. Think of the other products we sell / purchase in cans; beer, cider, fizzy drinks etc. all of these we generally open with the purpose of drinking it in one sitting; in many cases we will consume more than one when it comes to alcohol.

My point being that when consumers decide what to drink, packaging / brand is almost as important as the product itself. Who for example would not envy the Red Bull brand? How many people have tried to break into the stimulant drinks market, to take their slice of market share from Red Bull. Sadly for competitors when consumers go into a bar, it is ‘Red Bull and Vodka’ which is asked for; ‘Red Bull’ the brand and ‘Vodka’ the generic alcohol. Very few consumers will refer to this gender as ‘a stimulant drink’; Red Bull is just Red Bull, dominant market leader by virtue of being there first and brilliant marketing.

Back to my original point, if you package a 12% abv drink in a can designed to attract young people, in a way which many will interpret as a drink to be consumed in a single session by a single person, possibly in multiple cans and at a price point of just over £1, the caffeine may not be the real cause of the problem; even though it certainly will not help.

By my calculations a drink containing 12%abv in a 694ml can contains 8.3 units of alcohol; that is over 4 times the recommended daily allowance for a woman in the UK and nearly 3 times the recommended daily allowance for a man… in a single can!

So the stories of college students in the US going a little crazy on this drink, may have a lot more to do with alcohol than caffeine. There is no doubt that some of them were drinking this as if it were beer and having 4 or more cans in an evening. 4 cans equates to 33 units; 16 times the recommended daily allowance for a woman in the UK.

So the focus should maybe be on how drinks are packaged / branded against their relative abv; would we be happy selling vodka in the equivalent of a water bottle with a sports cap? It suggests a certain method of consumption which for a spirit with 40% abv would clearly not be sensible.

As for the caffeine and stimulant drinks, the debate will go on for sometime yet I suggest. The biggest brands responded some time ago to the concerns of some governments / health officials and made changes to their ingredients. It is in a great part down to individual consumers to take responsibility for what they drink and down to the licensed hospitality sector to regulate themselves when it comes to how they promote these drinks when they are mixed with alcohol at the point of sale.

I ran an venue many years ago which was one of the first to sell Red Bull in the UK, one of my managers finally convinced me it was a product we should be looking at seriously; for a while we were the largest single outlet in our sector when it comes to sales of Red Bull. We figured out early on that when people drank a full can as a mixer with vodka some customers would go ‘off the rails’; and our customers soon figured it out for themselves. We quickly realised that selling half cans across the bar when it was used as a mixer, made sense on many fronts; not least to our margins and the reduced cost of drinks for our customers…

You can sell half cans, third of cans or full cans, but if you let your customers drink a large number of double vodkas with Red Bull as a mixer, the ‘wings’ it gives them, will not prevent them falling over from the overall quantity of alcohol they consume.

To view the related article - Click Here

Source – BBC

Date – 13th December 2010

Submitted by – Peter Mayhew


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