After months of vociferous criticism from elected officials and consumer advocates who allege that its products are inadequately labeled, Monster Beverage Corp. will begin using a “Nutrition Facts” panel on its energy drinks and introduce labeling that includes the caffeine content of its products, according to the Associated Press. The company, which has long marketed its drinks as dietary supplements, has not indicated when the changes will take effect, but did confirm the moves to industry publication Beverage Digest.
Critics of Monster have long charged that by labeling its energy drinks as supplements, the company has shielded itself from government regulation. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does regulate supplements, as well as food and beverages, the designation of these drinkable products as dietary supplements has remained a major point of controversy.
Although top Monster competitor Red Bull uses a Nutrition Facts panel on its cans, a significant number of other energy drink companies market their products as supplements. By doing so, companies are able to include ingredients that are not on the FDA’s list of generally recognized as safe (GRAS) food additives. Only GRAS ingredients can be used in food and beverages, while products marketed as supplements are able to include a wider variety of additives that are usually incorporated to enhance function and flavor.
That strategy – using a Supplement Facts panel as a way to include non-GRAS ingredients – has, over the past year, come under scrutiny from the FDA. In June, 2012, the government agency warned Rockstar Energy that despite being labeled as supplements, its Coffee & Energy products, which contain Gingko, a non-GRAS ingredient, are represented, advertised, and sold as beverages. The FDA also warned the makers of melatonin-infused Slowtivate Relaxation drink – also labeled as a supplement – in March, 2012 that the product is unsafe because it has the appearance and is represented as a conventional beverage. Melatonin is not a GRAS additive.
Interestingly, taurine, an ingredient commonly found in energy drinks including both Monster Energy and Red Bull, and often called out as an unsafe ingredient by critics of the category, is not on the FDA’s approved list of GRAS food additives. However, because taurine is allowed as a nutritional supplement in chicken feed, it is considered an approved food additive in conventional products.
In other Monster-related news, more details have apparently emerged concerning a protein-enhanced energy drink line the company will be rolling out called Muscle Monster. Although Monster first reported news of the line in a December meeting with investors (at that time, the company called it “Protein Monster”), according to Beverage Business Insights, the drinks will contain 25 grams of protein along with Monster’s blend of energy ingredients packaged in a 15 oz. can. The line will come in chocolate, vanilla, and coffee flavors and contain 200 calories per can and have a suggested retail price of $2.99.