News In Brief

Four Loko drops caffeine from its beverages amid an expected FDA ban

Jaclyn Giovis Nov 17, 2010

What do you have when mix you four beers with two cups of coffee?

Some call it Four Loko – the canned beverage sold by Chicago-based Phusion Projects.

Others call it “blackout in a can”.

As soon as this week, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to ban drinks like Four Loko, that blend alcohol and caffeine, after they were linked to two deaths and many hospitalizations. The agency will rule that caffeine is an unsafe food additive to alcoholic beverages, according to a statement by Sen. Charles Schumer.

Several states, including Washington, Michigan, Utah and Oklahoma, have already banned Four Loko and other similar drinks.

In anticipation of the new government regulation, the maker of Four Loko said it will be taking the caffeine out of its drinks. Phusion Projects said it made the decision despite its belief that beverages that combine alcohol and caffeine are safe.

Will the decaf version of Four Loko continue to have the same appeal with young adults and others looking for a dizzying sort of high? Or will its popularity die off and force the company into the can?

Right now, Four Loko generates about 200 million dollars a year in sales and costs around $5 a can.

Competitor Sparks Plus, which once touted itself as a “good alternative to high-powered street drugs,” went decaf in December 2008. The result: it’s still trying to convince its legion of followers that it’s still got street cred — and the energy to stick around.

“Rest assured, SPARKS isn’t going anywhere–except, maybe, an honored place in your fridge,” the company promises its 4,929 fans on its Facebook page. “We removed the caffeine from SPARKS some time ago. Now we’re focused on coming up with great-tasting new flavors, like Blackberry Ultraviolet.”

Many of the Sparks Plus fans aren’t buying the new marketing spin, which encourages drinkers to “show the night who’s boss.”

“No caffeine, No Sparks!” said Melissa Morrison, one of the drink’s Facebook followers.

Buzz that the FDA was considering a ban of such drinks is causing a stir among Four Loko’s 40,000+ Facebook fans. How they will react to the decision to go caffeine free remains to be seen.

At least one Four Loko drinker says it’s a smart move.

“Remove the caffeine – Trust me, people will still buy it,” said Cole Chandler, in a post on the company’s Facebook wall. “Me being one of the many.”

Others are not so sure the new version of the drink will sell.

“My distributor sells Four Loko,” Josh Zimmerman wrote, in response to Chandler’s comment. “When Sparks took the caffeine out about 2 years ago, the sales dropped to close to zero….Four is up around 400% on my route. Not looking forward to any ban.”

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