Diet Energy Grabs a Bigger Piece of the Pie

By Jeffrey Klineman

It isn’t a premium beer situation, where Bud Light and Miller Lite are leading their flagship brands in sales and distribution, but as the energy drink category matures – and its cohort matures with it –the low-calorie options are outpacing their line-mates.

Recent shopper analysis by AC Nielsen in grocery and convenience channels indicates that this year, sugar-free and low-calorie products have nearly doubled the pace of growth of core brands nationwide, 29 percent to 16 percent.  While sales of the top three brands (Rockstar, Monster, and Red Bull) are still heavily weighted toward full-calorie products, lighter line extensions are becoming key parts of the portfolio. Driving the trend are an overall lightening of calorie profiles across categories, as well as the tiny caloric but ever-growing sales footprint of the energy shot.

For Rockstar, the argument could easily be made that without its diet lines, the brand would be a nonentity – fully 48 percent of its sales this year can be attributed to its sugar-free and zero-carb lines, while its hot “recovery” line (which is now up to three flavors) also has only 10 calories per serving.

Monster (19 percent) and Red Bull (24 percent) both have lower percentage volume of sales from their diet offerings. But they are trying to juice the mix themselves. Recent introductions from Rockstar (Recovery, Xdurance) and Monster (Absolute Zero, Rehab) have extended the trend – they aren’t even introduced with full-calorie versions. Despite rumors that it would be re-branding Red Bull Sugar Free as Red Bull Zero, a company representative said that new launches would be in addition to its existing SKUs — although he also made it clear that the company agreed that consumers are searching for zero calorie, zero carbohydrate options.    At 24 percent, Red Bull’s share of sales through diet has held steady over the past two years, while it has grown for other brands.

One great example of this, of course, is Xyience, which has gradually locked down shelves as a purely calorie-free alternative to other brands. Recent news of Xyience’s extended presence in certain Costco outlets further solidifies its growing presence as a force to be reckoned with. Its “never-had-it-never-will” approach to sugar may have hampered it at the start, but as the overall trend moves toward zero-calorie product, Xyience is well-positioned to take advantage and grow share.

Also helping the trend along are innovations in flavor technology. While energy drinks companies have been slower than other product categories to pick up Stevia as a sweetener, their brash taste profiles and fairly aggressive carbonation make artificial sweeteners easier to deploy. Xyience, for example began to gain share when it reworked many of its flavors.

Of course, the functional rush is a bit different without the sugar, but it seems to be a high that consumers aren’t as interested in chasing these days. In any category.