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Friday, 13 July, 2001, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
Red Bull: Raging success
Red Bull
Concerns have again been raised about the energy drink, Red Bull, after the deaths of three people in Sweden, all of whom had drunk it just before they died. This follows deaths in Europe and America linked, though without proof, with Red Bull. As Bob Chaundy of the BBC's News Profiles Unit explains, despite these health scares, it has become a worldwide phenomenon.

It is banned in France, classified as a medicine in Norway and, until recently was only available in pharmacies in Japan. Yet, Red Bull, the drink that "gives you wings" sold more than a billion cans last year across 50 countries.

Red Bull being drunk in a club
Red Bull is the hip drink of the club scene
Its high energy-in-a-blue-and-silver-aluminium-can has become the epitome of cool for the revellers that pack the bars and clubs from L.A. to Singapore.

It has been described as "the Porsche of soft drinks" but one that combines well with alcohol, most popularly, vodka. Its logo can be seen flashing by on Sauber Formula One cars and Yamaha 500cc racing motorcycles. A high octane drink for those in life's fast lane. It was even rumoured to contain testosterone distilled from bull's semen.

In fact, Red Bull's energy is derived from a mixture of caffeine, vitamins, carbohydrates and taurine, an amino acid that jump-starts the body's metabolism.

It was the brainchild of Austrian businessman, Dieterich Mateschitz, and has made him a multi-millionaire and the richest man in Austria.

He adapted it from a cheap tonic called Krating Daeng (Thai for Red Bull) that he discovered in the early 1980s in a brown bottle in Bangkok, a favourite tipple among blue-collar workers in the Thai capital, trying to stay awake through the long hours of labour.

Red Bull's founder, Dieterich Mateschitz
Red Bull has made its Austrian founder, Dieterich Mateschitz, a millionaire
Believing that the drink could become popular in Europe, he approached the Yoovidhya family, which owns TC Pharmaceuticals, the company that manufactures the drink.

They agreed to sell him the foreign licensing rights in return for a 51% stake in his Austrian Red Bull company. The Thais remain sleeping partners.

Mateschitz returned home, tinkered with the taste and texture of the tonic, and emerged, in 1984, with a carbonated, watered-down version of the original Thai recipe that satisfied the regulating authorities.

But it was the marketing which proved the masterstroke. As a former Procter and Gamble salesman who peddled toothpaste and shampoo, Mateschitz knew the importance of branding.

He realised it would be impossible to convince the factory workers of Vienna to give up their morning coffee, so he decided to target the young urban professionals who also work long hours but who have more cash to flash.

A can of red Bull being poured
A billion cans were sold last year
By offering instant energy, a designer image and an association with glamorous sports and lifestyle, the marketing men had achieved a mix as potent as any Red Bull cocktail. It hit the spot. In the words of Mateschitz himself, Red Bull spread "like an avalanche or a bush fire".

Even the original Thai drink has benefited from reflected glory, significantly increasing its market share at home.

Such has been Red Bull's success, now everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. Supermarket shelves now creak under the weight of energy drinks with names such as Whoop Ass, KMX, Powerade, Red Devil etc.

"Imitation is the best form of flattery," says Fiona Mollet of Red Bull UK. "Last year, 23 new functional energy drinks were introduced to the UK alone, yet we still control 86% of the market."

According to Alex Bachelor, of the branding consultancy firm Interbrand, Red Bull's market share is firmly embedded and likely to remain dominant for the time being, despite the recent health scares.

Warning notice on back of a can
The can warns that Red Bull should not be drunk by children or diabetics
"Potentially these scares could affect sales but my guess is that those who drink Red Bull are aware that any potential risks are associated with quantity and that they're willing to take them. There are far more tangible risks in taking ecstasy but these don't seem to have deterred many users."

It seems that under the control of Dieterich Mateschitz, the marketing matador, his Red Bull will continue to charge forward.

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