Thursday, July 17, 2014

Vitamin Water Energy drinks

I still find drinking vitamin waters as not much more than expensive Kool Aid.  Now you might ask what the difference is between that and an energy drink being expensive soda, and you would be dead on.  This is especially true if your drink does not have anything particularly unique to it - like adding in lots of vitamins and minerals and other stuff your body needs.   I even get Powerades and Gatorades, as those have potassium and really do help after a long workout.

Vitamin Water energy has been at the forefront of the Functional Water Category since it was a category.   Some variety of caffeinated Vitamin Water has been on the market for over three years now - and probably longer than that.  This one is a little different, in that it is in a can and not a pet bottle, and it is also lightly carbonated - so it is like an expensive Kool Aid  AND an expensive energy drink.
This drink is also one of 711's exclusive products, which means they decided to go with a soft launch and see if their product was good enough to hit national.  However, from the look of how short this run seems to have lasted at the 711s I visited was, I seriously doubt this will ever make it to national launch - it is just not good enough of an energy drink or unique enough from the other drinks to do much other than confuse people.  

Packaging: 7
 For being a can of Vitamin Water, it is not too shabby.  This is the first time I have seen a vitamin water in a can, and if it were not for the color I would be totally down with this as an energy drink. THe colors are not your normal for an energy drink, instead coming into the market with dark green or pink - and a very simple logo.  I would have expected an energy drink to be in something more eye catching, and instead this can gives off a more subdued feel.

Other than that it is about what you would expect.  There is the caffeine listing as well as all other ingredients, and I would have preferred i the can was double faced, so it wold be easier for the people working in the 711 stores would not have to face their cans all the time.  Also, double facing means that you can show off what drink you are holding without having to position your hand.   Not awesome, but decent.

Taste:Orange-Mango:7, Fruit Punch:7, Strawberry Lime: 8
I tried both Vitamin Water energy flavors, and they were both very OK.  I like that they were lightly sparkling, unlike most Vitamin Waters.  It tasted light and fruity, and I enjoyed them all.  Vitamin Water comes in three different varieties - a strawberry lime, berry punch and orange mango. 

The orange mango tasted like orange soda - straight on.  I could not really detect much mango - but it is of no concern really.  It is a decent orange soda as orange soda goes.  It is not over-sweet or bitter, and did not leave my mouth sticky as most orange-y drinks do.  

The Fruit punch was also what you would expect - a mix of fruitiness that reminded me of a fruit lollipop.  

The best one of them all was the strawberry lime - if for no other reason than this one took a change on a flavor that was more sour and less sweet than the others, and was the most unique.  If you have tried this and loved it or hated it, it would have been because of this one.  I like a less sweet and more sour drink, so I really enjoyed it

It is nice seeing them go out on a limb a bit with the flavor profile.   They managed to balance the sweetness and the light flavor without getting bitter, which is made more difficult to do when using stevia as one of their sweeteners (stevia is pretty bitter tasting).  

Buzz: 6
There are certainly good aspects to Vitamin Water Energy that are pretty well thought out.  They kept the sugar content down by using a blend of stevia and cane sugar, so there was a nice amount of sweet and tart and still kept the calories down to a minimum.  I also like the idea of using caffeine extracted from raw coffee beans, just because it is new and cool.  You know, caffeine is caffeine is caffeine, whether you get it from tea or made in a lab - the only real difference is that this is the latest trend of cool energy sources.   I also like the natural ingredients and no preservatives - which makes this much healthier than a caffeinated Kool Aid.

Problem is the same as their other caffeinated drinks - there is just not enough power in here to really do much.  There is 80mg in a 11.5 ounce can, and while that's more than you can find in a soda, it is 4 ounces more liquid for the energy contained in a small can of Red Bull.   I know their forces is health and vitamin and not just an energy rush, but the vitamin content was very low too.  I was hoping for a real contender in this category - as this is a Coca-Cola product and you think they would have done their market research, but this Vitamin Water did not give me a whole lot to be excited about.

Still, I do not see any real reason for these drinks.  The can is modest, the flavors are decent but nothing amazing, and the buzz is pretty weak.   I was hoping when I saw those interestingly pastel-colored cans I would get cool energy drink flavors - but it seems like this was just churned out, without giving a whole lot of thought to the mart or their place in it.  

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

5280 Energy Drink

One of the most important point o any new energy drink is a good hook - one that separates itself from the hundreds of other energy drinks out there in the market today.   One interesting angle that has not really been pushed now is the idea of a "local" energy drink, one where the entire process from manufacture to marketing is solely based on the state it resides.

This is the angle for 5280 energy drink, made by and for Coloradans.  For those who have never been to the Mile High City, Denver is 5280 feet above sea level, not because of the new marijuana laws ( although that fits the moniker too). One of the big selling points about 5280 is that it is Colorado made, colorado produced and sold in the state only - so unlike big national brands that are made here in Colorado (Vuka, Go Fast, Bing, Boa, Recon, Bazi and others), it is not only a local business, but all the money for the drink stays in the state.

Packaging: 3
So for all that hype about being local, I would have expected a whole lot more than a plastic wrapped energy drink can.   Maybe this was all left over from a party at the Denver Chamber of Commerce, where it is obvious they ripped off their logo from.

 Rather than spend actual money to get a professionally done can, 5280 went for a plastic wrapped variety - a cheaper form of packaging than an actual printing job - so it is akin to those Happy Bunny and other novelty energy drink cans you find at Hot Topic and RocketFizz , usually churned out by Boston America.   This is one of the cheapest forms of energy drink packaging, and can easily be picked out by having the label easily peeled off the can.   It is hard to be taken seriously when you don't even spring for a real printing job and just go for the novelty drink wrap.

I have some real problems with the wrap too.  The font choices are a little silly, using an XTREME font for some of the writing, futuristic writing for other parts, a fat futura font for the logo, and a super stretched slogan at the bottom in yet another font.   While The design is fun for a Colorado themed drink, I would LOVE to see what would happen if this was brought to one of colorado's professional design agencies and let a real package designer come up with something.   Not to mention, one of my most important pet peeves - there is no listing of how much caffeine is in this 8 ounce can.

Taste: 4
Big Surprise, its another Red Bull clone.   It is not a particularly good one - and reminds me of the hundreds and hundreds of other Red Bull cones that have flooded the market over the last decade.  5280 tastes like any other energy drink wannabe company asked a drink manufacturer to bottle their standard energy drink flavor in a can and call it a day.   I seriously doubt anyone at this company even tasted the drink until it came to them already done and packaged up in cases.   

There are SO MANY THINGS you could do to make this drink special and unique to colorado in the ingredients.  How about using Rocky Mountain ayer - like Coors, or fresh ingredients sourced locally?  How about dumping the crappy Red Bull flavorings for something local - like Palisade Peach or Grand Junction Grape?   Instead, going for a knockoff flavor off the shelf is a HUGE copout.

Because of the cheap 8 ounce can and the knockoff flavor, it is pretty easy to guess that the energy ingredients are off-the-shelf too, so I expect there are 65-80mg of caffeine in the can, which is sort of the standard for private label energy drink cans like this.  If you were going to get novelty energy drink cans for a Bar Mitzvah and got a stock energy drink flavor, this is pretty much exactly what you would get - and those all have a very small caffeine and energy boosting ingredient level.   Sure, if you pound 4 of these cans you are going to feel it, but the same holds true for drinking several hundreds of calories of any soda.  

If you are in denver and looking for a tourist drink to send home to your kids - there are so many better ones out there from Colorado to choose from.  The only real benefit to this drink that I can see is that if you are passing through the state and hit a truck stop  - getting a can of 5280 is a bit more funny than getting a crappy postcard.   

Monday, June 30, 2014

UPDATED: Madrinas Coffee drink

The first time I tried Madrinas coffee drink I had some real issues.  One of the biggest ones is that they did not really take themselves or their drink very seriously, hoping their branding would pay off into RTD coffee drink sales without putting much effort into it.

However, the newest incarnation of Madrinas is a smooth natural coffee filled with delicious creamy flavor and a brand that is much easier to get behind. If you are looking to go for a brand of coffee flavored energy with some real flavor and a decent amount of energy, this is a smart choice.  I had a chance to talk with the new team at Madrinas, and they have really devoted quite a lot of time and energy into their latest offerings, and they get it - The way to make a great ready-to-drink coffee is to provide the consumer with something that looks great, tastes delicious and provides a bit of power.  For a can of convenience-store based coffee drinks, I would choose this over the usual canned Starbucks/Monster/Seattle's Best humdrum stuff variety any day.

The new Madrinas has accelerated their packaging to a point where this is something I am looking forward to seeing more on shelves across the U.S.  While they still have some hispanic themes to the drink (A couple sayings in spanish and using more unique lettering choices) it is way turned down from being a coffee drink aimed towards hispanics and more to a coffee drink aimed at everybody. They is more going on without being busy, and I am not hesitant  to bring this canned drink with me to my morning meetings and look out of place.  While I appreciate going after the hispanic market for a coffee drink, this toned-down version still does the trick.

Taste: Cafe Vanilla:9   Cappucino:8
Madrinas coffee now comes in three flavors, the usual chocolate, espresso and vanilla (with almost no exceptions, every coffee drink is in one of these flavors).  All of them are a marked improvement over what this drink was in the past - tasting creamy and sweet, yet not overpowering or too much like a shake.   The old version was a mess, but you can actually taste real yummy coffee in here.  The regular espresso flavor tasted a little watery, but the Cafe Vanilla was the perfect blend of sweet and strong coffee flavor to really work.  

Still this is a canned coffee, so don't be expecting the same thing as an iced version of a gourmet shade-grown rainforest blend.   But I would certainly rate this higher than anything put out in cans by Starbucks, Monster, Rockstar or a dozen other brands out there.

Again, there is a marked improvement from the old version to this one.  While the original might not have had any caffeine in it at all, each can has 100mg of caffeine from coffee in it.  While that means it is about half as powerful as a regular drip coffee, it still can satisfy  - as you just can not help but swig this stuff down fast.  I really like what Madrinas has going on here, and was told that a more turbo drink is in the works, something with a bit more power for guys like me who need that morning rush to have more Oomph.  

Seeing how much this small drink company has improved in the past months in just about every field, I'm excited to see in store for them in the  near future.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Zum XR time release energy drink

It has been proven time and time again that the best way to keep your energy going for an extended period of time is not to down a ton of caffeine at one time, but to take a small bit of caffeine and keep it rolling for hours.  Not only will this help with building to a great amount of energy, but also eliminates the crash until you can take it.   Soldiers are given caffeinated gum in their rations - and are supposed to ration it out to keep up their stamina.  Slow release caffeine has been scientifically proven to help everything from nausea to traffic accidents

I have tried something like this on a number of occasions, such as sustained release energy tablets, delayed release energy pills you take at night , energy strips you put on your tongue to dissolve, and lots of gum that you are supposed to eat eatery couple hours, like Stay Alert.   However, I have never heard of time release energy drinks before.

This is the idea behind Zum XR, a new energy drink that has little caffeine beads floating in it that release caffeine slowly in your system over hours. At first, I was expecting something like the old Orbitz drink (it had big gelatinous balls floating in it - didn't last very long) or something akin to Boba - the asian dessert drink with floating gooey tapioca balls.   But Zum XR's little pellets were something very new, as they were infinitesimally small beads - sorta like soft chewy white poppy seeds, floating at the bottom of the bottle in a pile.

Zum XR looks great and healthy when you check out the bottle.  It is clear and large, with enough of a color difference to let you know what to expect from their very large taste profile.   I like how they got across the caffeine buzz plainly, so you knew how much energy you would be getting from the drink itself, and how much to expect inside all those little floaty things at the bottom.

Of course the thing that really sets this drink apart are the floaty things - and at first people I showed it to thought of it as a turn off.   Most people don't like floaties in their drink , regardless of what it is.  On two occasions I found people drinking the juice portion of the drink but drinking only from the top and letting it settle, so they did not have to deal with the energy beads.   Those that did work to swallow did not really mind them, but still found the whole experience of dealing with these little balls a put-off.

Zum comes in a huge range of flavors (Alpine Berry, Blackberry Pomegranate, Lemon Ginger, Mango Green Tea and Wild Mandarine), all of which are tasty and very subtle.  The fruitiness and the bite were well done, overall drink was light and refreshing.  The drink reminded me of a Functional beverage, like Vitamin Water or Neuro.  I definitely have a preference for the more citrusy flavors - especially on their diet varieties, but they are all pretty tasty.   The only one I did not like as much was the Alpine Berry one, which did not really have that little flavor punch I was hoping for (I think it needed a bit more sweetener).  I enjoy that their diet versions used stevia as a sweetener and they still managed to make it taste light, crisp and refreshing.

The little caffeine beads were definitely something do deal with though.  They sat on the bottom of the bottle - and unless you shook it while drinking (actually shaking the bottle while it is being poured in your mouth), there is no real way to get all of them out.  As these balls were the encapsulated caffeine and the reason for the drink, I did not want to have them sit unused and wasted at the bottom of my bottle.  The only way I found to completely consume all the caffeine in the drink is to either use a straw (a double Big Gulp straw works great), or to plug it with your tongue, turn the entire bottle upside downing your mouth and wait for the beads to settle, and chug the whole bottle college-dorm style.  The flavor and texture of the pills were fine - it is just the transport into my mouth that was a issue.  Even if you use a straw and end up with a big mouthful of them, they are completely tasteless and as long as you don't mind little floaty dots in your mouth its fine.

I think the problem here is unlike other drinks-with-stuff-inside, these balls are too heavy to deal with.   The fact that they don't mix up with the liquid and constantly sit at the bottom makes it very hard to consume.   If the density of them were a bit lighter, or the liquid was a bit heavier then a quick wrist snap would get all their pellets into a much more drinkable form and stay blended.

The drink itself is great - and the caffeine beads are fine as a taste and texture.   These is just a little work needed in how people are supposed to get all of them out of the bottle and into your mouth.

Once you get all those caffeine pellets in your mouth though - the rest of the drink starts to shine.   There is a quick boost of caffeine in the liquid - about 60mg per bottle.  That is just enough to give you a little of what you need until the good stuff starts kicking in.  The crazy thing is, you never feel the rush - you just don't feel tired.

That is one of the most interesting things about Zum XR.   At no point do you feel buzzed or hyper - instead you have a nice flow of energy for about 3-4 hours  - and barely even notice the taper off.  The whole effect is very gradual, so even through there are 200mg of energy in here you never feel it.  It is akin to drinking about 2-3 cups of coffee over 3 hours - so yo never feel a huge buildup, but no crashing either, and I love it.

 Zum XR is innovative as the only drink in the world that has time-release caffeine.  Basically, they wrap the caffeine in a light food-grade film.  Because this food-grade film does not dissolve in your stomach at the same rate that regular caffeine does, by varying the micro-encapsulation you can get your caffeine dosage spread out over a much longer time.

On top of the caffeine, there is a daily serving of vitamin C in the bottle, and it is loaded with electrolytes, so it really helps if your activity is a marathon, not a sprint.    About 20 minutes into a day of yard work I was hot, sweaty and tired - and grabbed one.  After about 15 minutes, I was ready to go and got a good productive 3 hours of manual labor before I started to feel beat.

If I were needing to stay awake in a meeting or driving or working out, I would want something a bit more powerful that delivers a bigger punch to start off with. Truthfully, the 60mg for the initial boost is barely enough to keep me functional in the mornings until the energy beads kick in.  If I were going to suggest anything, it would be great if they came out with a formula with a slightly higher kick - for those of us caffeine fiends that could really use that burst as well as sustained energy.  After downing the Zum, I still felt a little pull to the coffee machine to help get me through my mornings.

If you are looking for something to keep you rocking for a while (and have a long straw to drink with) I would definitely recommend it.