Slimming Chance

How drinks that rev your metabolism can accelerate the bottom line.

By Matt Casey

LET’S FACE IT: as a country, we could stand to lose a few billion pounds. America is fatter now than ever before, and getting fatter by the year. Simply cutting calories by switching to Diet Coke isn’t working, but, while more exercise and fewer donuts would do most of us a lot of good, a crop of up-and-coming beverage brands say they’ll help customers in their personal battles against fat. None of these brands can claim bullet-proof science, but they’re earning serious looks. Most come with two advantages: a high register ring and the fix-it-quick appeal that comes when our collective pants are getting tight enough that it’s time for a larger pair. Again.

In a perfect world, said Case Western Reserve University nutrition professor Hope Barkoukis, Americans would address their expanding waists by eating more fruits, vegetables and low-calorie foods. But Barkoukis understands that the world isn’t perfect.

“In the real world, you don’t see many people out there trying to push broccoli,” she said. In place of that, she said, beverage-based dietary shortcuts represent a good start.

The new wave of weight management beverages serve as between-meal treats or meal accompaniments and pack a collection of additives and nutraceuticals that require a science degree to fully understand. Broadly, though, they break down into two categories: products that curb the consumer’s appetite and those that help them burn more calories.

BURN IT OFF

Calorie burners offer a little nudge for consumers who just can’t muster the time and energy for another 10 minutes on the stair climber. These products, generally built around a core of caffeine and tea extract EGCG or other active ingredients, are supposed to raise their consumer’s metabolism (they certainly raise heart rates) and help burn more calories. Celsius crams 200 mg into a 12 oz. can, and Redline jams 250mg into an 8 ounce serving.

But, while it’s a common ingredient, the category doesn’t always require high doses of caffeine. Function’s Light Weight slips in with a comparatively miniscule dose: just 30 mg to complement its mixture of EGCG, gymnema and resveratrol.

Company founder Alex Hughes didn’t start his company with weight management in mind, though. Function began with other platforms, like Alternative Energy and Urban Detox. Hughes later pushed his company into the weight loss category, he said, because more than 30 percent of Americans are obese, and most of those that aren’t still worry about their weight. The line proved to be one of his company’s most successful. It peaked at four flavors, and remained on the roster after a recent reboot that took the brand down from eight platforms to just three.

COOL IT DOWN

Long the realm of diet pills with a penchant for attracting regulatory ire, beverage brands have stepped forward to benignly fill the appetite-control market. Their mechanisms differ, but each product tricks the body into feeling “full” when it wouldn’t normally.

Funktional Beverages and Santa Monica-based Neuro both built drinks around LuraLean, a proprietary fiber that expands to 200 times its original volume when it meets stomach acid. The stomach, in turn, feels full and tells the brain it’s had enough. LuraLean’s manufacturer, AHD International, also claims that it slows food as it moves through the gastrointestinal tract, which can also reduce hunger.

Other products try to skip filling the stomach and go directly to the brain.

Forze, from PacificHealth Laboratories, combines a proprietary blend of fats, proteins and carbohydrates to make the 45 calorie drink feel like 400 calories or more. The company claims that the product activates satiety chemicals in the body, extends the feeling of fullness for 3.5 hours and decreases daily food intake by up to 20 percent. According to PacificHealth Labs’ President and CEO, Jason Ash, it replicates the feeling of consuming a handful of almonds and a glass of milk.

FUZE’s Slenderize line uses a different trick. Its core ingredient, Super CitriMax prevents the body from converting carbohydrates to fat, according to its marketer, InterHealth Nutraceuticals. Instead, it encourages the body to store that energy as glycogen. The molecule stores energy in an easy-to-access form and also tells the brain that the stomach is full.

Despite garnering some bad press and embarrassing headlines, the weight management category has attracted a growing roster of established players. NVE added shot version of its Stacker 2 diet pills, and CytoSport recently introduced its Muscle Milk Refuel shot, which packs 100 mg of caffeine and 5 grams of protein.

MARKETING

As the category develops, marketers have taken different approaches with their brands. Celsius has targeted convenience and grocery stores to aim squarely at the mainstream market. The brand has even employed television commercials, a rare move for an independent beverage firm

Other brands have targeted niches. Ash, at PacificHealth Laboratories, said his company currently aims Forze directly at athletes. It packaged the drink in Tetra-Pak, which has never performed well in mainstream channels, and bills the brand as “The first appetite management tool designed specifically for athletes.” But, while the product is currently aimed at endurance competitors, it has clear applications for dieters.

“Hunger is not an elite athlete phenomenon, and wanting to lose a bit of weight is not an elite athlete phenomenon,” Ash said.

Forze’s current push as a GNC and Vitamin Shoppe-style brand, Ash said, is partly to test the market. Should it succeed, he said, he’ll shift the product’s branding and packaging to fit a more mainstream consumer.

Funktional Beverages has targeted a somewhat larger niche: energy drinks. The current packaging for its Red Stuff Energy doesn’t even call out its appetite satiation on the front panel – though that may change. Darrell Duchesneau, CEO of Funktional Beverages, said he’s happy with the product’s formulation, but he expects to tinker with its labeling before expanding its distribution beyond Texas. The brand also exists in a gray area. In addition to LuraLean, it packs a calorie-burner like 180 mg of caffeine per each 2-serving, 8 oz. bottle.

“It evolved into a hybrid. It’s a sports drink. It’s very easy to drink. It’s not thick. It’s [also] a fiber drink,” Duchesneau said.

While those brands are starting in niches, Function Drinks wants to retreat to one. The brand, brightly colored and non-carbonated, debuted during the zenith of vitaminwater’s pre-Coke popularity and got swept into the enhanced water category. Hughes said he never intended for the brand to occupy such a space, and now he’s trying to wiggle Light Weight and his other offerings into the nutrition supplement door.

THE SCIENCE

If these diet claims sound too good to be true, well, they could be. The science behind each of the drinks is a little shaky – but that’s not entirely the fault of the marketers. According to Hughes, who spends most of his time as a surgeon, real research into satiety and calorie burning only really blossomed in the last few years.

“Before five or seven years ago, there really wasn’t much being published in the journals on dietary supplements and weight management,” Hughes said.

Additionally, real, scientific research on the individual products is hard to come by. Hughes based Light Weight’s formulation on existing research, he said, and is working on testing his particular blend like Celsius and PacificHealth Labs have done. The nutraceutical firms behind LuraLean and Super CitriMax have performed their own research, but nutrition-minded consumers tend to be suspicious of studies benefiting the companies that pay for them.

Even if the science doesn’t pan out, Hughes said, it may not be that important. Hughes said consumers are “looking for that control edge that empowers them to participate in healthy programs.” People in and around his company have achieved meaningful weight loss results by incorporating Light Weight into a fitness regimen, and it’s anecdotes like that which are often the key to sales. In short, even if the science comes back saying that Light Weight (or any other weight-control drink, for that matter) amounts to little more than a placebo, it still helps the consumer make other positive lifestyle decisions.

While Hughes has a professional interest in promoting that view, he’s not alone. Barkoukis, at Case Western, said there’s evidence to support that view. There’s a belief in nutrition, she said, that suggests that If you make one good decision, it will lead to others.

Overall, she said, the science behind weight management drinks – be they appetite suppressants or calorie burners – is murky. The studies she’s reviewed support fiber-based belly-fillers more than brain-targeted hunger reducers and calorie-burners have less support, but the conclusions are far from final. Despite that, she takes the stand that companies like Function and Celsius are making a positive contribution to American nutrition. In addition to the placebo effect, she said, research into these fields may eventually yield something that truly works. And that, she said, would seriously help America’s waistline problem. •
Lifestyle Beverages. Lifestyle Beverages, makers of TrimWater, recently participated with The New Jersey Kings of the AIFA as they held their first open tryouts at Rider University in Lawrenceville NJ. TrimWater was there as the participants showed what kind of shape they are in, and how they can stay in shape.

Pacific Health Laboratories, Inc. Pacific Health Laboratories, Inc. launched FORZE GPS, an appetite management tool designed for athletes. The drink contains a blend of healthy fats, protein and calcium that activates the body’s natural appetite control signal. FORZE GPS is available in vanilla and chocolate flavors.

Function Drinks. Function Drinks recently relaunched Light Weight in new packaging that positions the product as a dietary supplement. The platform now includes three flavors: Blueberry Raspberry, Acai Pomegranate and Peach Mango.

Celsius, Inc. In 2009, Celsius rolled out a national television campaign, signed an endorsement deal with actor and TV host Mario Lopez, and added placement at chains including BI-LO Supermarkets, A&P and Pathmark Stores, Harris Teeter Food Markets, Ralph’s Supermarkets and Shoprite Stores.

Vital Pharmaceuticals, Inc. VPX/Redline partnered with the 2009 Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival as a product sponsor. The company also partnered with the 2009 Wilhelmina Hot Body Model Search, presented by Shape and Men’s Fitness Magazines.

Neuro Brands, LLC. Neuro Brands, LLC introduced Neuro, a line of low-calorie functional beverages including Neuro Trim, a product built around the appetite-suppressing fiber LuraLean.

Funktional Beverages, Inc. Funktional Beverages introduced Red Stuff energy drink, which combines the appetite-suppressing qualities of LuraLean with the potential calorie burning properties of caffeine.

The Coca-Cola Co., Inc. FUZE Slenderize added in-flight distribution with Air-Tran Airways.

CytoSport. CytoSport introduced a calorie-burning shot extension to its Muscle Milk line of protein shakes. Muscle Milk Refuel packs100 mg of caffeine and 5 grams of protein in a 3 oz. shot designed to boost metabolism when consumed three times daily.

SAN Corporation. SAN Corporation launched Tight RTD, an 8 oz., metal-bottled, liquid version of its Tight fat-burning capsules.

American Body Building. American Body Building, maker of fat-burning products including Speed Stack and Ripped to the Max, sponsored the 2009 NPC Atlantic States Bodybuilding, Fitness, Figure & Bikini Championships at the Tribecca Performing Arts Center at the Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York City.

Venga LLC. In the last year, Venga functional infusions added distribution with Exclusive Beverage Distributors for the New York Metro region and Aqua Maestro in Florida. It also earned placement on American military bases in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and other locations in the Middle East. •