Why you should care

Because drinking coffee might become so last century.

Dan Meropol is addicted to caffeine … and allergic to alarm clocks. While millions like him reach for a mug of coffee, this 25-year-old entrepreneur has a different approach: He relies on a toothbrush to get his morning rush. Within minutes of waking up, Meropol says, his heart is beating faster and his pupils are dilated — thanks to the power of his Power Toothpaste, a dental product that contains 106 milligrams of caffeine per milliliter. Though there’s no scientific study to prove it, Meropol says that the boost hits him faster than a cup of java because he’s ingesting it through his gums, making mornings a “less painful” experience.

While Americans have been swilling coffee for centuries, caffeinated products are becoming increasingly vital for some who see the minutes spent brewing and sipping old-fashioned joe as a waste of time. That’s generating a new kind of buzz for caffeine-infused consumables, including addict-friendly, bracelet-like skin patches as well as chewable coffee and coffee gum. Too hard-core? Try caffeinated gummy bears, granola bars, alcohol, popcorn and even hot sauce. Sales of caffeinated products totaled $2.48 billion last year, up from $1.78 in 2012, according to Euromonitor International.

American culture emphasizes productivity at all costs, and that requires us to always be up and available.

Krystal D’Costa, anthropologist

So why all the jitters? Blame time-strapped workaholics. “American culture emphasizes productivity at all costs, and that requires us to always be up and available,” anthropologist Krystal D’Costa says. She believes consumable caffeine products are a cultural response to people struggling with increasing workloads. And D’Costa may be on to something: A fifth of Americans say they’re putting in more than 60 hours a week at work, according to a new Gallup Poll.

There are also other evolving tastes at work here. While a whopping 85 percent of Americans reach for a caffeinated beverage every day, according to a report published in Elsevier’s Food and Chemical Toxicology journal, some health-conscious millennials seeking a similar buzz without the crash or sugar intake are turning to caffeine vaporizers. Because the caffeine enters the system through inhalation, which some people claim they feel immediately, the experience offers customers greater control of their intake, says Matt Lang, marketing director for Eagle Energy, which has sold 50,000 caffeinated vapes since its launch last year.

New consumables often spell regulatory concerns, and caffeine-infused products, which mostly use a mixture of synthetic caffeine and plant extracts, including guarana, are no exception. In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration started investigating the safety of certain products, which led to the fizzling out of items like Wrigley Alert Energy Caffeine Gum, Wired Waffles and the AeroLife Energy inhaler. Last year, the caffeinated peanut butter company Steem was reprimanded by the FDA for noncompliance because it hadn’t provided any safety research for caffeine-infused products that might appeal to children. Regulators continue to investigate new companies.

Despite the negative publicity, several new startups are still looking to innovate the coffee industry, which was valued at $48 billion last year and has seen a 54 percent boost in revenue since 2012, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America. To cash in, they’re “looking to see what could be popular, and what consumers will try,” says Catherine Tucker, author of Coffee Culture and a professor of anthropology at the University of Florida. But Tucker doubts that consumables will replace traditional coffee culture. After all, it’s a simple way to stay awake and keep working, one that rarely leads to immediate health deterioration, she says, adding that places like Starbucks offer a social outlet and are easily accessible. History is also not in innovation’s favor: Coffee drinking has always been cyclical, Tucker says, with people eventually returning to it no matter the alternative. D’Costa agrees, saying the ritualistic experience of consuming coffee cannot be “undone with toothpaste.”

Although coffee demand remains high, production in Brazil — which supplies a third of the world’s coffee — has declined. Experts also predict a worldwide bean shortage, and ICE Futures expects a coffee price hike by 2018, both of which could help give caffeine-infused consumables one hell of an industry-affirming jolt.

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