(WFLX) - Despite government scrutiny over energy drink safety, sales of caffeine-fueled beverages continue to soar.
Now, brands are marketing to consumers well beyond cramming college students. They're reaching out to the health food crowd, and critics are concerned it's sending the wrong message.
Artist Joseph Cavalieri was never big on using caffeine to help jumpstart his day. We're not just talking java. "I never drank any traditional energy drinks."
Things changed when Joseph spotted a new energy drink at the health food store. "I liked the idea that it was totally organic."
It's a trend that has consumers, like Joseph, buzzing: Drinks that promise a "cleaner" burst of energy. They tout things like organic ingredients and "all natural" sources of caffeine – minus artificial colors and flavors.
Industry anaylyst Gary Hemphill says brands are responding to a growing thirst for healthy refreshment. "Consumers are savvy today. They read labels, and they know what the ingredients are in the products they ingest."
Hemphill says this new breed of drinks has opened up the energy category to a whole new crowd. "Up until now, the real core energy drink consumer has tended to be younger, teen males. When you talk about health, it tends to be a concern or interest of, you know, somewhat older consumers."
Consumers, like 52-year-old Joseph, who now play a role in soaring energy drink sales. "They're tasty, and they sort of make you feel good -- good on different levels."
"It's a very clever marketing strategy to advertise these drinks as clean, healthy alternatives, but there's really no evidence to support that," said Dr. Steven Meredith, a behavioral pharmacologist.
He says even though the caffeine comes from natural sources, like guarana and green tea, it's still the same. "Caffeine is caffeine -- whether it's synthesized in a lab or whether it's synthesized in nature. It's still going to have the same pharmacological effects when you consume it."
In fact, many versions still pack a potent caffeine punch, putting them on the FDA's radar, just like their traditional counterparts. "There's really no scientific foundation that I'm aware of that suggests that when you consume one of these types of clean energy drinks, you should feel any differently than when you're consuming a traditional energy drink."
Still, industry experts don't expect sales to slow anytime soon. "The healthier energy drinks are likely to continue to grow because people want healthier refreshment," said Hemphill.
Joseph will help fuel that market, but he is cautious when craving a boost. "I'm really sensitive to caffeine, so often, i'll just drink half of the can."
The FDA is currently conducting an open investigation into the safety of energy drinks and supplements, and told us it is has no official time frame for when things will wrap up.
Dr. Meredith says if you choose to have "clean" energy drinks, look for labels that clearly display the total amount of caffeine per serving. That way, you can monitor your daily consumption.
For most healthy adults, Dr. Meredit says, that should be between three and four hundred milligrams a day.