MillerCoors Sued over Sparks BeverageSep 9, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
The Washington-based consumer advocacy group, Center for Science in the Public Interest, has filed a lawsuit against MillerCoors over the marketing and formulation of its Sparks energy-alcohol drink. The advocacy group says that the Sparks beverage contains "unapproved" additives.
The additives with which the group is most concerned include both caffeine and guarana. The lawsuit asks the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to stop MillerCoors from selling Sparks. MillersCoors is a collaboration of the Coors Brewing Company and the Miller Brewing Company. MllerCoors previously handled marketing of the Sparks drink. The advocacy group has also accused MillerCoors of appealing to young people through what it called Sparks' "sweet citrusy taste."
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reports that the Sparks drink contains six to seven percent alcohol by volume. Meanwhile, a typical beer, such as Budweiser, contains about five percent alcohol by volume. This is important because the CSPI lawsuit alleges that is illegal to use caffeine, guarana, ginseng, and taurine in alcoholic beverages. Also according to the CSPI, Taurine is only approved for use in chicken feed. The CSPI argues that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has allowed only very narrow approval for caffeine and guarana—with no allowance for alcoholic drinks—and no approval for ginseng in any food or beverage.
MillerCoors spokesman Julian Green claims that the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has approved the product formulations and labels for Sparks and other Sparks brands, including Sparks Light, Sparks Plus, and Sparks Red. "We have and we will continue to ensure that the labeling, marketing, and product formulations of all our brands meet all applicable federal regulations and that our brands are marketed responsibly to legal drinking age adults," Green said. The CSPI disagrees. "MillerCoors is trying to hook teens and 'tweens on a dangerous drink," CSPI litigation director said in a statement. "This company's behavior is reckless, predatory, and—in the final analysis—likely to disgust a judge or a jury."
Earlier this year, the group threatened to sue St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch Companies over the marketing and formulation of several drinks, including Bud Extra and Tilt, which mix alcohol with stimulants such as caffeine. Anheuser-Busch entered into separate agreements with the CSPI and 11 state attorneys general to resolve the issues, agreeing to remove the disputed ingredients, which included caffeine, from the Bud Extra and Bud Tilt.
Guarana is a reported stimulant. Its seeds are rich in caffeine, containing about four-to-eight percent caffeine, significantly more than coffee beans, which contain about one-to-2.5 percent caffeine. Taurine is found in the central nervous system, skeletal muscle, and heart and is more heavily concentrated in heart tissue and in the brain. One of the concerns with these additives is that mixing an energy drink and alcohol can significantly dehydrate a person since they are both diuretics; dehydration stresses the heart. Mixing stimulants and depressants can lead to abnormal heart rhythms and heart problems.