Here’s a simple theory for the energy drink category:
Taste is inversely proportional to the perceived functionality of the product.
It will probably sound simple and obvious to some — and lots of energy drink companies have figured this out — but there are plenty of people out there that still don’t get it. Most likely it’s some sort of placebo effect, but consumers simply don’t believe that something that tastes like soda, smells like soda, and looks like soda is actualy going to provide them energy. Everyone has “functional” products that they use in everyday life that work similarly….My own personal item is mouthwash. If it doesn’t have that burning sensation in my mouth, then it’s simply not working.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are products that taste so bad that they absolutely have to be functional. No one is going to keep chugging that 100% pure ginseng or seaweed infused beverage if it isn’t. These products might be good in some sort of niche environment, but their chance of mainstream success is zero.
As with most things in life, it’s all about finding a happy medium. Too much soda taste means that many consumers won’t believe that it can possibly be functional. Too much energy or herbal taste takes the enjoyment out of the product. I believe that there’s a formula that can be used….A minimum ratio of 20% energy flavor & 80% soda flavor all the way up to 80% energy flavor & 20% soda flavor.
To date, this range has been the only area where mainstream success has been had. Red Bull, Rockstar, and Monster have done it with flavors skewed towards energy/functionality. New products, such as Full Throttle, Airforce Nutrisoda, Monster Khaos, and Rockstar Juiced are trying to gain momentum from the other end of the spectrum.