Monday, September 16, 2013

Fooled by branding: alcoholic energy drinks

I had an interesting experience the other day. I drove to work on Saturday (I usually take the bus), so on my way back to my car after work, I stopped at an independent beer/wine/liquor store to pick up some provisions for the weekend. When I approached the cashier, and put down my purchase, I was feeling hungry and tired, so I grabbed some potato chips from the snack rack and an energy drink from a little fridge on the counter.

As I got into the car, I had a big drink (it was a hot day), then drank a bit more than half on my way home. When I got home, I put the rest in the fridge for the following day (I often start my day with an energy drink).

When I woke up on Sunday, I grabbed the left over can from the fridge and took a big gulp. For the first time, I noticed that it tasted a bit different, so I looked at the can. You can imagine my surprise to find I was drinking vodka at 10 am!

Then I burst out laughing, realizing that this was the very can I was drinking from as I drove home from work the day before...

Then I got mad.

I had absolutely no idea I had purchased a mixed vodka drink - heck, I didn't even know they made them - and I certainly didn't know I was drinking it while driving. I was aghast.

First of all, I feel duped by the store, who had these drinks at the till, where most such stores have pop, water and energy drinks - along with the chips and chocolate bars. Why they would have a fridge of single-serving iced drinks at the counter is beyond me.

All I knew, was that I could see my (former) favourite brand of energy drinks, RockStar, in my favourite flavour, the white sugar-free can. I didn't examine whether they had changed the styling of the can. And had I looked even a bit closer, that's all I would have thought it was, new styling - I would have no reason to even suspect it was a vodka drink, even though I was in a liquor store.

As an aside, I still feel fully responsible for drinking it and driving. I can't pass that responsibility off on anyone else - the store, the manufacturer or the laws that misguidedly permit this.

I am not commenting on whether there should or should not be alcoholic energy drinks on the market - that's a completely separate issue.

What I do feel is duped.

I feel it is irresponsible for the manufacturers of these products to label them so they look practically identical to their non-alcoholic counterparts. This isn't brilliant marketing, it's stupid marketing. It feels like a bit of a trick, so people won't notice youth walking down the street or otherwise drinking booze in public places. If I was a parent, my kid could have been drinking one of these under my nose, and I'd never know it. It must make the job of the police harder.

I'm sounding old here (dammit!), but I don't like slights of hand to get around the law. Yes, youth are more than likely going to drink, but this is like facilitating it.

I also think of how dangerous this is. If I made this mistake - and I consider myself reasonably intelligent - anyone could. What if I'd drank the whole can? What danger would I have been? Maybe I already was, at half a can. What if other drivers drink one of these by mistake? What if someone who has had just one drink and is under the legal limit, grabs one by mistake.

What if someone who is an alcoholic drank one by mistake? Yes, I know they won't be in the liquor store, but if they are visiting a friend and grab one from their fridge, never suspecting the alcohol content? How far could that set them back, and change their life (not for the better)?

I think the whole thing stinks.

I think there's a very good chance that I'll be checking out the boozed up energy drink cans, and if they are made to look like the alcohol-free versions, I'll probably by neither. I have no interest in supporting a brand that takes such an irresponsible approach to marketing. Aka, bye bye Rockstar...

~ end of rant ~

Update: I was forwarded 2 very interesting links about the legality of alcoholic energy drinks, and Health Canada's position on the "loophole" that allows these products to be on our shelves (thanks to @BevWire):
Oh, I also visited the store to give them feedback. They didn't seem to care. Why am I not surprised?

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