- Gatorade is entering the energy drink category with a caffeinated spin-off called Fast Twitch.
- The new drink is slated to launch in February, but NFL players will be drinking it on sidelines during the upcoming season as part of an exclusive deal with the league.
- A bottle of Fast Twitch contains nearly as much caffeine as two 12-ounce cans of Red Bull.
Gatorade is entering the energy drink category with a caffeinated spin-off called Fast Twitch.
It represents yet another example of beverage companies blurring the lines between drink categories, seeking to leverage existing brand loyalty while entering fast-growing categories. Gatorade's parent company, PepsiCo, has already expanded Mountain Dew into alcoholic and energy drinks.
The company says Fast Twitch is designed to give athletes an extra boost before their workouts. The market for preworkout powders is growing, fueled by industry leaders such as Cellucor C4 and RSP Nutrition. But few preworkout drinks exist, and many consumers instead turn to carbonated, sugary energy drinks.
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Anuj Bhasin, general manager of Gatorade, said roughly 32 million consumers reject the energy drink category for the negative health effects. Fast Twitch aims to attract those consumers, offering plenty of caffeine but no sugar or carbonation.
The new drink is slated to launch in February, but NFL players will be drinking it on sidelines during the upcoming season as part of an exclusive deal with the league. Bhasin said Gatorade worked with the NFL and its sports performance experts to develop the specific formula.
The finished product comes in a petite 12-ounce bottle with brightly colored packaging. While smaller, it tastes pretty similar to traditional Gatorade. A bottle of Fast Twitch contains electrolytes, B-vitamins and 200 milligrams of caffeine. For comparison, a 12-ounce can of Red Bull has nearly half as much caffeine but 37 grams of sugar. Bolt24, another recent offshoot of Gatorade, has just 75 milligrams of caffeine in its Energize line, which is being phased out.
"Two hundred milligrams is the right amount to help athletes seeking benefits for exercise performance," said Matthew Pahnke, senior principal scientist at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute.
Since its creation nearly six decades ago, Gatorade has built its brand on hydration, spreading the word about the benefits of electrolytes and carbohydrates. But caffeine is a natural diuretic, removing salt and water from the body. As a result, Fast Twitch is meant to precede drinking a more hydrating beverage during an actual workout, the company says.
"We know athletes will mix and match things," Pahnke said.
Fast Twitch will target consumers who are 18 years old or older due to the high caffeine content, according to Bhasin.
Reenergizing sports drinks
Fast Twitch follows a broader push by Pepsi into energy drinks.
Over the last three years, the company bought Rockstar Energy for $3.85 billion, launched Mtn Dew Rise Energy with the endorsement of NBA superstar Lebron James and acquired a minority stake in up-and-coming energy drink maker Celsius for $550 million.
Celsius is a potential competitor for Fast Twitch. The upstart markets its beverages as "fitness drinks," and its marketing shows models swinging kettle bells and stretching.
Another challenger also has ties to Gatorade's parent company. Bang Energy, which recently ended an acrimonious distribution deal with Pepsi, markets itself as a preworkout or recovery drink. Beyond being highly caffeinated, it touts "super creatine," which claims to boost muscle performance, but no sugar.
But Pepsi is already the dominant leader in the U.S. sports drink category, holding 73.2% market share with Gatorade and G Zero, according to Euromonitor International data. Bodyarmor jumped to second place in 2021 with 11.7% market share, overtaking Coca-Cola's Powerade. Coke purchased full control of Bodyarmor in November for $5.6 billion in a play to increase its market share.
Changing consumer tastes led to slowing sales growth for the sports drink market, even as U.S. adults exercise more. Years of backlash from lawmakers and pediatricians about sports drinks' high sugar and calorie counts didn't help either.
But Gatorade staged a comeback, focusing on options with more electrolytes and less sugar, such as recent spin-offs G Fit, Gatorlyte and Bolt24. In the second quarter, Pepsi reported double-digit revenue growth for the Gatorade brand.
However, not all of Gatorade's innovations have paid off. An organic version of the drink released in 2016 failed to take off and was discontinued several years later.
Energy represents an opportunity in a fast-growing segment, but it lacks trust from consumers who exercise. Gatorade, on the other hand, has earned plenty of trust from that customer base.
"We found this to be the sweet spot of bringing a new brand to market, with the distinction of being from the makers of Gatorade, much like Propel," Bhasin said.