A high risk drinks idea

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Marketers looking to cash in on the "extreme" drinks trend-high-octane concoctions of alcohol and energy drinks-are mixing a potently volatile cocktail. Beverages mingling liquor with reputedly sex-enhancing ingredients such as guarana and ginseng not only tempt underage youth to belly up to the bar, but also leave the tavern door (and the marketing plan) wide open to regulators.

College-age kids have come up with unorthodox and outrageous combinations of spirits and chasers since before the days of goldfish-swallowing and the Stutz Bearcat. Being aware of that fact is one thing. Actively encouraging such behavior is quite different. Just how credible is an industry that promotes responsible drinking on the one hand while marketing products that a Schieffelin & Somerset executive called "a drink that could get you through a long evening?"

Kraft Foods has long known that its seemingly innocuous gelatin has been a prime ingredient in the liquor-laced Jell-O shots. But Kraft has consistently steered well clear of trying to exploit that connection. Certainly, it's never put out a Jell-O shot recipe book, or created a pre-made version to be sold next to Miller beer.

Some liquor marketers, eager to generate marketplace excitement, are actively exploring this idea, as we reported last week. Those taking this dubious path are indeed walking a fine line in making claims-and serving up an invitation to lawmakers thirsting for a hot-button political issue. Because these drinks' buzz sometimes comes from mixers with a purported "health" aura, the industry lays itself bare for charges that it's widening the potential for alcohol abuse among the extreme generation by dangling a real or imagined health benefit.

There might very well be a big untapped market out there for energy/alcohol drinks, and there's no doubt drinkers are creating these combinations on a do-it-yourself basis. But some markets are better left alone. The social (and political) costs of trying to exploit the extreme drink phenomenon with ready-mixed products outweigh the potential sales gains. It's time the industry learned when to say when.

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