Chaleo Yoovidhya, the co-creator of Red Bull who rose from impoverished beginnings to become one of the founders of the global energy drink market, died on Saturday. The self-made Thai billionaire passed away in Bangkok and was believed to be in his 80s. Chaleo’s death was first reported by Thailand’s state broadcasting service MCOT, which cited the Thai Beverage Industry Association.
Chaleo, who was estimated be worth $5 billion at the time of his death, was born into a poor farming family in central Thailand. Despite having little formal education, Chaleo moved to Bangkok and started a small pharmaceutical company called T.C. Pharmaceuticals in 1962. The company initially focused on producing antibiotics, though soon began making a drink called Krating Daeng (translated as “Red Bull” in English). The non-carbonated beverage was loaded with caffeine, taurine, and B vitamins and became very popular among Thailand’s bustling working class.
Krating Daeng spawned a new market for highly caffeinated drinks in Thailand and other developing Asian nations into the 1980s. The beverage had a widespread following with truck drivers, day laborers, and other blue-collar workers throughout the region, however, it wasn’t until Chaleo met an Austrian named Dietrich Mateschitz that the drink became the global phenomenon that it is today.
Mateschitz was a sales representative for Blendax, a German household products company, when he first discovered Krating Daeng in 1982. Mateschitz found that the drink soothed the jet lag from his constant business trips and reached out to Chaleo about bringing Krating Daeng to the international market. The two men formed a partnership with each putting up $500,000 for a 49 percent stake in the new company with the remaining 2 percent going to Chaleo’s son.
Chaleo and Mateschitz reformulated Krating Daeng to contain a small amount of carbonation and packaged the drink in a crisply designed silver-colored slim can. The product was rechristened as Red Bull and first launched in Austria in 1987. Red Bull became wildly popular throughout Europe for its ability to provide “energy” to consumers in an increasingly fast-paced society. The drink drew enthusiasts from all walks of life including students, office and construction workers, as well as bar patrons and revelers who wanted a boost of energy to keep them up while partying all night.
Red Bull entered the U.S. market in 1997 and is now the bestselling energy drink in the world. The drink is distributed in 79 countries and generates over $5 billion in sales each year. In lieu of traditional advertising, Red Bull, which claims to own 70 percent of the global energy drink market, uses a multi-pronged marketing approach that includes heavy sponsorship of “extreme” sports and athletes, ownership of two professional soccer teams and an F1 racing team, and promotion at nightclubs and student events.
For a man who created a beverage for the high-octane lifestyle, Chaleo, much like Mateschitz, was a reclusive figure who shunned the spotlight. Though ranked by Forbes as the 205th richest person in the world, Chaleo rarely showed off his wealth and reportedly spent his free time running a duck farm. According to one of his sons, he never gave media interviews or made any public appearances within the past 30 years.