High-energy rivalry

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With the energy/sports drink tally at 1,600 and counting, category contenders at last week's Food Marketing Institute show vied for attention with hip-hop hype, condoms and even a tricked-out hearse.

With $2 billion in total sales last year, energy drinks barely represent a rounding error in the $65.9 billion carbonated-soft-drink business, according to Beverage Digest. But three of the top 10 marketers were energy-drink companies with Red Bull USA, Hansen Natural and closely held Rockstar taking the No. 7, 8 and 10 posts, respectively. "We're beating the Cokes and Pepsis of the world," said Sam Pontrelli, VP-marketing for Monster Beverage Co., a unit of Hansen's Natural. Monster pulls in a variety of niches, all under the umbrella of "living life in a monstrous way," as in extreme sports and punk rock. In its booth, the marketer passed out condoms and posters of a toned woman's behind with a can of Monster tucked into her thong.

"It's a dog fight out there," said James Robinson, president-CEO of Hip Hop Beverage Corp., who displayed his Pit Bull energy drink and energy bars, positioned as "Attitude in a Can."

Performance Beverages is distributing its Beast drink in the U.S., a brand known as Red Dragon outside the States and is claiming taste superiority against Red Bull in blind taste tests. (Red Bull holds more than 48% of the category.)

Some brands are focusing on ethnic differences. Ciclon International's energy drink, Tormenta, touts its fruity-flavor profile created for Hispanic tastes. Cadbury Schweppes' Clamato Energia is a 2-year-old herbally enhanced tomato and clam-juice beverage.

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