High Voltage

Make the Right Choice to Energize Your Guest's Glass and Night

Given the growing influx of options now available, selecting the perfect energy drink for your venue can be a daunting process. Appropriate weight has to be assigned to each of the factors in the decision; cost versus profit margins, meeting guest expectations, packaging, flavor, mixability and marketability. For most venues, that’s typically the order of importance, ranked in descending order, but different bars and clubs have different needs. The outcome of a venue’s stocking selection can impact a bottom line more than you’d realize.  

“I was in NYC recently and I ordered a vodka and energy drink at a club,” Boe Trumbull, senior director of operations, logistics and special projects at SBE Restaurant and Nightlife Group explains. “They served me an energy drink I’ve never heard of. It was an odd color and had an off taste, and I didn’t want it. I would’ve had four more if I’d liked it. I’m an avid energy drink guy. I like to be depressed and excited about my drinks at the same time,” he quips.  

“Eventually, I returned the drink and got a vodka pineapple, which I don’t like as much. So now I’m drinking at half my capacity, and the club lost sales on me. Then I started to wonder how often our venues lose sales because people aren’t getting what they like,” Trumbull says. His job at the LA-based hospitality firm is to think this critically. “We’re a multi-platform company. We have our hotel chain (SLS Hotel), a nightclub type (Hyde Lounge or The Colony), a restaurant type (Katsuya) and more. I have to choose an energy drink brand that will work on all those levels simultaneously.”

After a thorough analysis encompassing brands such as Red Bull, Rockstar, Venom Energy, Roaring Lion, Monster Energy, Full Throttle and many others, SBE decided delivery and packaging was most crucial to their needs. Bag in a box packaging best maximized profitability and lowered storage and loss costs. “After spending six months of blind taste-testing available bag-in-a-box brands, doing ounce-per-ounce pour costings and looking at the bottom lines, it was one answer and that was Roaring Lion. We’re thrilled with the choice.”  

Bag-in-a-box seems to be edging out the canned energy drink packages in nightlife arenas. “With the energy drink on the gun, it saves a lot of time (and fingernails), especially when dispensing a large order, such as a round of eight bomb-style shots,” says Tim Kavanagh, bartender at One and One Bar in New York City. “In addition, there’s less waste and spilling. The fact that we don’t have dozens of empty cans to deal with at the end of the night is also nice.” Brand names aren’t much of a concern at One and One, which uses the ReFuel brand. “The vast majority of customers have no problem when told,” says Kavanagh. “Every once in a while, someone will return a drink because it is not a Red Bull, but that only happens about once a month.”

At Hooligan’s Sports Bar in Billings, Mont., the customer gets precisely what’s ordered. “We stock both Red Bull and a great energy drink called American Rebel,” says Owner Sean Graves. American Rebel is a bag-in-box, Billings-based indie brand positioned as a less acidic alternative to Red Bull. The vendor also makes a berry flavored energy beverage dubbed Cool Blue.

“The shot of the moment for us is the ‘Chuck Norris,’” says Graves. “It’s Dr. McGillicuddy’s Cherry Schnapps and Cool Blue mixed. We sold 600 of them on New Year’s Eve at $4 a shot; it’s quite lucrative.” For Hooligan’s, it’s all about the flavor and mixability. “Red Bull’s flavor limits the number of cocktails and shots you can mix with it. Cool Blue is exactly the opposite. Montana strictly used to be all about Bull Blasters (the local name for Jägermeister Bombs), but that’s changing with these new brands,” Graves shares.  

The flavor profiles of energized drinks and shots now available are expanding considerably as the number of energy brands entering the marketplace rises. “Besides mixing energy drinks with traditional spirits such as vodka, rum or Cognac, we also feature ‘Skittle Bombs,’” says Kavanagh. “That’s a shot of fruit-flavored liquor — vodka or rum — dropped into a pint glass half-filled with ReFuel.”

Besides offering new flavors, bagged energy drinks can be as cheap as 7 cents per ounce at cost, while canned energy drinks can be as hefty as 21 cents per ounce at cost. “Price is always an issue, but we’re not willing to sacrifice quality for cost,” says Sebastien Lefavre, general manager of NYC’s upscale lounge GoldBar. “We only use Red Bull because that’s what our clients ask for. In the high-end clubs, customers won’t pay less for a drink with a gun product. The venue will still charge Red Bull prices, whether customers recognize it’s what they ordered or not, especially when it’s poured into a carafe and placed on their table.”

“Some brands offer cans to nightclubs because they want their can in hands for better visibility, which I understand,” says SBE’s Trumbull. “But these are our nightclubs. That’d be like you ordering soup in a restaurant and a waiter handing you a can to show you which company made it. It’s not necessary. At the end of the day, I am not the keeper of our brand; I am the vanguard of access to our brand. We have to choose partners like Roaring Lion, who understand they’re partnering with us, not taking over our brand.”

Regardless of whichever trendy shots or cocktails are flowing — from a can or from a gun — at the end of the day, “I’m going serve what people want to drink,” says Graves of Hooligan’s. “If people are ordering Red Bull, we’ll serve it. If they want American Rebel or Cool Blue, we’ll serve that too. They’ll have to pay the difference in cost, but if they’re willing to, it then really boils down to whatever makes them happy and keeps their glass full.” NCB

Brand Battles
The official term for what Red Bull has become is a proprietary eponym. Similar to Xerox, Kleenex, Band-Aid and countless other big brands, Red Bull’s name no longer solely represents the category leader, but also the entire category. It’s the brand oft-shouted across the bar or to the cocktail server when guests wants an energy drink mixer with their spirit, even when they don’t care if it’s specifically Red Bull that’s poured into their glass. That leaves operators faced with the choice of going with the leader – and marketing that choice to the clientele – or seeking out a different product. Many factors enter into this decision, especially since the energy drink market appears to be expanding daily. Here’s what you need to know about the leader, and the brands making their own mark:

Red BullRed Bull

-- Inspired by an energy drink found in Thailand, Red Bull launched in 1987; the brand entered the U.S. in 1997 and quickly created the category.

-- Involves a unique blend of taurine, glucuronolactone, caffeine, B vitamins, sucrose and glucose.

-- Available in the ubiquitous can, and in Sugar Free, Energy Shot and Red Bull Cola.

-- Strong event marketing campaigns involving extreme sports, music, DJs and more.

-- Popular drinks are Red Bull & Vodka and the JagerBomb (shot of Jägermeister dropped into glass of Red Bull. 

Roaring LionRoaring Lion

-- Comes in three flavors: Roaring Lion and Roaring Lion Sugar Free, a taste comparable to that of Red Bull; Bluphoria, featuring blue raspberry flavor that also contains ancient Indian root called maca; Oranj, an orange flavored energy drink.  

-- Top drinks include a slew of bombs, including Skittle Bombs. “But we also are seeing success with it as a stand alone product to keep the designated driver energized,” says Roaring Lion Operating Partner Sean Hackney.

-- Offers a variety of packing and delivery options. “Sixty percent of all our sales are bag in a box for bar guns, but we also do a 355 ml can and a 500 ml re-sealable PET bottle,” says Hackney.

American Rebel

-- Similar to the product that started this whole category, but “we took what everyone liked about the energy drink and eliminated what they didn’t like, such as the vitamin-y bite,” says David Hobbs, CEO and president of American Rebel. “People said normal energy drinks are like sticking a nine-volt battery on your tongue, so we figured out how to mask that acidic taste.”

-- Cool Blue is an energy drink with a berry blend using five different varieties of berries. “It’s got less sugars, and it’s lighter and not as heavy,” says Hobbs. “The original marketing ploy was to give them something different flavor-wise, then all the flavored vodkas came out, and we wanted to have an energy drink, which comes ready to mix with vodkas. It outsells American Rebel in some markets.”

-- It’s cost effective – 7 cents per ounce to pour – and is available only in bag-in-box packaging.

Mini ChillMini Chill

-- Mini Chill is a two-ounce relaxation beverage shot new to the market and just getting into the bar and club scene.

-- Mini Chill features relarian, an all-natural patent-pending blend of amino acids and herbs that relieve tension and anxiety.

-- The berry-flavored relaxation shot has no sugar, zero calories and is a non-drowsy and caffeine-free way to reduce stress.

-- Mini Chill can be mixed into cocktails for bar and nightclub service.

Monster Energy

Monster Energy 

-- Featuring taurine and caffeine, among other ingredients, the Monster portfolio includes the core brand, as well as variations such as Monster Absolutely Zero (calorie- and sugar-free), Java Monster (coffee and energy) and X-Presso Monster Hammer (espresso and energy).

-- Monster marketing ties into sports, music and celebrities with high-energy events.

-- Hot cocktails include the Monsters Ball (Monster, Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, Dr. Pepper) and the Irish Monster (Monster, Irish Whiskey).

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