Redline doesn’t mess around. And it never has. When energy brands scrambled over each other, playing “can you top this” with ever-higher caffeine contents, Redline already held 250 mg in each 8 oz. – the equivalent of three Red Bulls. Plus, Redline is sugar-free and includes a fistful of additives intended to make the user sweat and shiver fat away – key benefits for its original health-club demographic. That gym origin insulated Redline from early mini-mart skirmishes, but now it’s getting into the fray, fighting for cooler space and picking bare-knuckle brawls along the way. In the age of protein bars and Muscle Milk at gas stations, Redline is beating a path from nutrition shops to convenience stores, and its parent company, Vital Pharmaceuticals (better known as VPX), hopes to drag a raft of its other exercise products along with it.
VPX founder and CEO Jack Owoc sees 7-Elevens and other convenience stores as “health food store[s] of the future,” and he intends for that future to include VPX. Redline has already secured space at Wal-Marts, 7-Elevens and other locations with four of its more mainstream oriented product lines: Redline, Redline Xtreme, Redline Princess and shot-sized Redline Power Rush. The company plans a 16 oz. extension called Redline Vexor for 2009 and, unlike many 8 oz. to 16 oz. transitions, Owoc said the larger product will have its own formula and its own tag line: “More Brains and Less Buzz.” He didn’t reveal other details about the forthcoming product, but he said he has more plans for convenience channels; he wants to leverage his Redline beachhead to mount a full-blown VPX invasion.
Owoc founded Vital Pharmaceuticals in 1993 with a mission to deliver high-grade sports nutrition supplements to people serious about their workouts. He started with a creatine supplement, and has since developed an array of fat-burners, protein supplements and energy drinks – including the 2005 introduction of Redline RTD – that he now plans to wedge into mainstream channels.
Bombastic and a bit reclusive, Owoc refuses to be interviewed in any way but by electromic mail. Given the grenades he lobs at other companies, keeping one’s distance might not be a bad idea.
“Consumers are fed-up with the B.S. products that currently dominate C-store shelves,” Owoc wrote. “Consumers want more, and VPX is delivering in a big way. Profiteers that promote sugar water and pollute our bod[ies] won’t be able to navigate against VPX – we are raising the bar to a level so high that their only choice will be to walk underneath it.”
That transition, though, requires a change of thinking. VPX ties itself tightly to the body-building world, and early press releases left no vagueness about the purpose of its banner product. Redline, releases said, was strictly a pre-workout supplement. Its marketing materials still promise that the product will help the user “tear apart the weights and wear out the treadmill,” but serious workouts and 7-Elevens have traditionally gone together about as well as ice cream and cabbage. While that’s changing – with protein bars increasingly displacing Hershey bars – Owoc has modified his definition of workout.
“Every day of our lives is a workout and a test of mental acuity,” Owoc wrote. “For this, Redline remains supreme.”
Some of Redline’s consumers may have already made that mental shift. Colorado waitress and mother-of-one Heather Coan said she drinks Redline several times per week to power through her sometimes-16-hour workdays.
“I would drink Redline daily if it was in the budget and more available,” Coan said.
She also credits Redline with helping her lose 50 pounds.
Owoc cites instances like this when he expresses unmitigated faith in his product. While other beverage promoters believe in their brands, few are as vocal or aggressive as Owoc, who has a talent for viciously attacking his competition. In the six pages of typed response Owoc submitted for this article he slammed Red Bull, Monster and 5-Hour Energy. He also and called the entire energy drink segment “carbonated sugar drinks.” And VPX’s assaults don’t end with sharp words. The company has a history of rough-and-tumble litigation.
VPX has been involved in cases with each of the above named companies, and publicly played hardball with Red Bull, a particularly litigious company in its own right, when the banner energy brand sued VPX. Red Bull said Redline was too similar to Red Bull because it includes “Red” in its name and uses a blue and red color scheme. In response, Owoc and his legal team sought and received the right to sue Red Bull for false advertising, and even filed a motion to order Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz to make an appearance in the courtroom. The motion was denied, but Redline won the right to keep its packaging unchanged.
“Some people just need a good ass-kicking because of their extreme arrogance and unwillingness to change with the times,” Owoc said. “and I can tell you with one hundred percent confidence Muscle Milk/Cytosport is next in line.”
VPX, it’s worth noting, recently introduced a protein RTD.
Of course, it’s also worth noting that VPX has suffered broadsides about as often as it’s dealt them out, as the company has a rich history of headline-catching controversies.
Commentators and journalists often point to Redline as an example of the dangers of caffeine in high doses. The Sacramento Bee ran a story in 2007 in which a nearby poison control hotline reported 10 cases of Redline-related caffeine intoxication over a two year period. The brand caught unwanted headlines again in 2008 when four Florida eight-graders headed to the hospital with Redline-induced caffeine overdoses. Owoc responded to the latter by donating $25,000 to the school district to institute a system-wide energy drink ban, but the company’s standard response to this kind of incident has always been that consumers should heed Redline’s ample warning labels.
Each Redline RTD includes a notice on the cap warning that the bottle contains two servings, and that consumers should read the entire warning label before consuming the product. Redline 4-packs carry extra warnings, including one that says the product isn’t intended for consumers under the age of 18.
Those warning labels could become a lot more prevalent if Owoc’s plans pan out. Redline, he said, continues to be a top performer in gyms, GNCs and Vitamin Shoppe while sales at Wal-Marts climbed by 22 percent in 2008. In the meantime, his DSD coverage remained spotty – about 2.4 percent of available channels, he said – but he seems to have plans to fix that. In the meantime, he said VPX recently opened two new facilities to keep up with demand.
So what’s the company’s big challenge?
“Our main challenge is educating DSD’s and large retail chains on an entirely new approach of doing business that involves far greater profit, high rings at the cash register and much more sophisticated and scientific products,” Owoc said.
“Not to offend anybody, but the only thing we are up against in the beverage industry are sugary carbonated beverages and sugar laden sports drinks that were developed in 1987 and 1965. Pathetically, other beverage companies just knocked off these 22 and 43-year-old ineffective and health-robbing drinks.”
Not to offend anybody.