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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A victory for public health...Sparks loses its juice

In a win for health advocates and opponents of underage drinking, MillerCoors announced last week that will voluntarily remove the caffeine, taurine, and guarana content from its Sparks energy beer. The company is also agreeing to pay $550,000 to the National Association of Attorneys General to cover their cost of the investigation into the health effects of their concoction. The investigation found that not only is the alcohol-caffeine mix deleterious to one’s health, but that college students who mix alcohol and energy drinks were more likely to be hurt, sexually assaulted, or drive drunk than those who only drank alcohol.

What happens when you take the caffeine, taurine, and guarana out of your beer? I know the answer and it’s not what MillerCoors wants to hear. After plunking down $215 million dollars for the Sparks and Steele Reserve brands (created by the San Francisco-based marketing and beverage development firm, McKenzie River), I wouldn’t be surprised if they were dusting off the guillotine out in Milwaukee. From 2003 to 2005 Sparks purportedly grew sales at 107% annually, a blistering growth rate that was fueled by popularity among entry-level drinkers and females. What is surprising about all this is that Miller failed to foresee the current public policy climate and that marketing to underage drinker would indeed be frowned upon by law enforcement.

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