Slimming Prospects

By Kendra Stanton Lee

Drinks that slim are on the campaign trail once more, but the platform keeps getting more complicated.

One party wants to boost your metabolism: frontrunner Celsius faces competition from Function’s Lightweight, Skinny Water’s Crave Control, and even Snapple’s blend of green teas. It’s also still trying to live down the shadow of Enviga, the candidate who never got off the ground. Metabolism fancies itself an independent party of sorts. Not quite an energy drink, not quite a sports drink, its functionality lies on the outskirts of both of these categories.

Of course, revving metabolism is only one way to slim while you consume. Protein has formed a party of its own. Traditional sports drink brands Gatorade and Powerade have moved into the territory and are joining Muscle Milk, Whey Up, and a number of other protein-oriented products that seek to increase the amount of fat-burning muscle on consumer bodies.

The target demographic has been showing up to the polls and there’s hope that this physically fit constituency will vote early and often for the slim-makers of choice. And it’s a growing voter base: according to a market research company Mintel, 54 percent of U.S. consumers want more products to enhance metabolism. Another research group, Frost and Sullivan, estimated the global market for satiety, fat-burning, and weight management ingredients at $7.5 billion in 2009.

But there are cross-trends: in a society in which weight loss is pitched by everything from vibrating footstools to cleansing teas, consumers want real results, not just promises. That means they want scientifically proven ingredients and a clear picture of what to expect. It starts with what goes into the products: In a recent report, the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) noted that that among the trends and market challenges emerging for the makers of weight management products, consumers want clear labeling of ingredients and inclusion of naturally functional ingredients. But it goes beyond that, as well: consumers want to feel confident in these products, because the biggest introduction yet left that confidence wanting.

THE HARD (TO PROVE) LESSON OF ENVIGA

When Enviga launched in the U.S., the “calorie burning” sparkling green tea rested its early claims on a thin reed: a three day Nestlé-funded study of a test pool that seemed to be the size of your spin class. The study participants consumed green tea extracts and caffeine equivalent to three cans of Enviga. Behold, the short-term study found all of the study participants experienced a small boost in metabolic rate.

Enter the Center for Science in the Public Interest, along with a slew of other groups and U.S. states sued Coke for false advertising claims. In a 2009 settlement, Coke agreed to pay $650,000, but even more importantly it retracted some of the claims. Of course, by then, Enviga’s failure to move the market was a foregone conclusion, as it had already bogged down in what many considered to be insignificant results and poorly argued science. As Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal put it at the time, “Enviga’s calorie-burning claims led to credibility loss more than weight loss.”

Since then, other beverage makers have gone on about the science that inspired the metabolism drink concept. But the Enviga legacy has served to inform what other brands should or should not do in marketing a burst to metabolism.

SPRUNG FROM SCIENCE

Since then, marketers have gone to great pains to demonstrate that the metabolism category did not begin on a scribbled-on napkin or in an epiphany shower, but rather in a lab report. When you’re talking metabolism boost, you’re talking science, nutrition, anatomy and more.

Dr. Alex Hughes, the spine surgeon who developed Function Beverages along with friends Dayton Miller and Josh Simon, said he first began to see an opportunity for applying physiology through a ready to drink beverage when he was in medical school. “I was learning about a lot of things that pharmacists were using on patients that were sick. What amazed me then was that the things they were using were all natural supplements,” he said. Rather than consumers purchasing a whole new shelf of supplements, said Hughes, “I thought it would be fun to create a solution-based beverage intended for healthy consumers.”

Hughes and company, who most famously managed to apply physiology to the cure for the common hangover, have also done work with energy and metabolism.

Still, he says that product development for his brand goes against common business sense in that it’s a device for keeping weight off, rather than losing what you’ve put on. “When we’re deconstructing the physiology of metabolism, that is, looking at basal metabolism as the rate at which we burn calories at rest, we know there are several ways to lose weight,” he said. “There are ways we can rev up our basal metabolism. That’s what [Function’s] Light Weight is about; that’s what alternative energy is about. I think if you follow a system of developing a product that is based in physiology and then look to the literature, it will allow you to achieve that goal,” Hughes said.

Celsius Founder Steve Haley said his company has been engaged in scientific studies since its launch in 2005. More expansive and expensive studies followed in 2007, probing the effect of its beverage combined with exercise. “Early on, our studies were proving an extended rise in metabolism [when consuming Celsius] and we proved that very well, on the pure premise of calorie burning. But all along, we’ve wanted to move into the ‘power of Celsius’–that combined with walking to the mailbox, you will get more benefit.”

The hard science is good and redeeming, but who besides Haley and Hughes are reading these lab reports?

The watchdogs, evidently, which made Haley’s concern for the effectiveness of Celsius’ claims well-placed and well-timed. The Better Business Bureau completed a three-month review of Celsius’ advertising in October 2010, and the beverage appears to have come out on top; the BBB’s National Advertising Division told Celsius to cool it with the calorie burning stats and just to convey that the beverage, combined with exercise, can burn calories.

But beyond government monitoring of claims, consumers are also becoming increasingly savvy about labels. Metabolism drinks typically choose not to patent their unique concoctions of ingredients so as not to have to disclose the quantities of each, but that means that consumers know what to look for – and most of them know to look for EGCG, which has made competition even tougher.

“We are scouring the earth for suppliers to provide EGCG,” said Hughes. “There are lots of different formats that suppliers can supply it in. But you can’t have debris. We have to be very careful on the production line,” he said.

SAME GOAL, DIFFERENT INGREDIENT

The other road to losing pounds while consuming liquid ounces is being paved by protein. The concept is much the same as metabolism: the drink should be one that multitasks for the slim wannabe. Thus, a line of beverages offer protein enhancements for lean muscle building and better recovery post-workout: Gatorade G Series, Powerade with Protein, Muscle Milk, Whey Up, and OhYeah!

The protein enhanced beverages are not to be confused with any chalky power shake, however. Some manage to retain the clarity of the standard sports drink because of developments made in creating a whey protein isolate. This protein can remain clear in liquids. Others simply aim for taste: OhYeah! and Muscle Milk have both managed to create followings based largely on the quality of their flavors. Others, like Whey Up, add energy.

Whey protein has been linked to encouraging fat loss while maintaining lean body mass. More developments in protein ingredients that purport to accelerate fat loss without sacrificing lean body mass may be on the horizon.

Beyond aesthetic, though, is the consumer seeing much of a result? By and large, the scientific studies seem to indicate that they may not. The American College of Sports Medicine journal published a study in June of this past year that showed test subjects (a pool of competitive cyclists) received no marked benefit, though their performance was not harmed by consuming protein-enhanced beverages. Dr. Asker Jeukendrup, who authored the study, told the New York Times in November, “I am convinced that protein in carbohydrate drinks during exercise will soon be out of fashion.” While that might be true from a recovery standpoint, muscle tissue has been proven to burn more calories than fat at a resting state – and it’s that bulky truth the marketers rely on.

SLIMMING WHILE YOU EXPAND

With the known effects of these slimming drinks so variant depending on the consumer, what is the outlook for product development?

One label that is handily wriggling into the category is Prometheus Springs. Launched on the East Coast and now just reaching the Left Coast, this trio of capsaicin elixirs essentially assigns a flavor to heat. Of its three flavors, each contains “heat extracted from chili peppers.” The active ingredient, capsaicin, purports to boost metabolism and elevate the mood.

Over in Function land, research and development in recent months has been testing its flavor and ingredient combinations.

“Scientifically, I would have said a few years ago, who cares about taste? We’re all about efficacy,” said Hughes, “But [Function] has to be fun, it has to be enjoyable to consume.”

BADGE VALUE

Armed with data, stocked with pure ingredients, the cans and bottles are filled and ready for purchase. This metabolism tour bus is ready to hit the campaign trail. What’s our party line again?

Celsius’ brands itself as a “pre-fitness beverage.” Haley said its target demographic is, “Not the body builders, not the elite athletes, just everyday people who want a healthy lifestyle and do all kinds of things for fitness (rollerblading, tennis, golf). That’s our real market,” said Haley. There to endorse the Celsius can to the man and woman is Mario Lopez, a recognizable host of dance and celebrity programs today, and an icon for Generation X who grew up watching Lopez’s A.C. Slater flex his ‘ceps on “Saved by the Bell.” Function, meanwhile, works with trainer-to-the-stars Tracy Anderson, whose resume includes Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow as clients.

While celebrity endorsement is nothing new, the strategic selection of a celebrity who promotes fitness, but not necessarily superhero athleticism, further helps to distinguish the category of metabolism boosters. This is not Peyton Manning’s Gatorade. This is not Tommy Lasorda’s Slim-Fast. This is your drink that does more for you, you, the target consumer who is already doing a great deal about personal fitness on your own.

This affirmation of what a beverage can do for its consumer has badge value, says Lindsey Field, national events manager for Skinny Water. Consumers make a sort of “I’m with Skinny” statement, simply by holding a bottle. Of its eight functions, Skinny Water’s best seller is Crave Control that includes EGCG for boosting metabolism.

“That’s the goal for all brands: you want an image associated with who you are. I think that claims your success. People are touting [Skinny Water] not just for function and taste,” said Field. “It’s what women want to be called. We’re not promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. We are promoting a very normal, healthy lifestyle,” said Field whose company works to promote itself at sporting events for women including the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, “It just happens to have a very cute name,” said Field.

“We’re introducing a delicious product and building long-term relationships with core consumers. That just shows what a brand can do,” she said.