Four Loko Likely Not Long for the Shelves

Phusion Products’ Four Loko, or “blackout in a can,” is a $2.50 drink that lets you glug the equivalent of several cups of coffee and a six pack of beer in one fruity-flavored, 23.5-ounce beverage.

The drink, developed by three Ohio State University alumni, is most recently believed to have caused nine university students in Washington to pass out and require hospital care. As a result, Central Washington University became the latest school to ban the noxious beverage. ABC has the story:

Four Loko manufacturer Phusion Projects defended its product in a statement to ABC News, pointing to seven labels on the can warning of the drink’s contents and calling attention to the need for identification to purchase it.

“The unacceptable incident at Central Washington University, which appears to have involved hard liquor … and possibly illicit substances,” the statement read, “is precisely why we go to great lengths to ensure our products are not sold to underage consumers and are not abused.”

In it’s statement to ABC News, Phusion Projects said Four Loko was as safe as any other alcoholic beverage.

“Consuming caffeine and alcohol together has been done safely for years,” the statement read. “Our products contain less alcohol than an average rum and cola, less alcohol and caffeine than an average Red Bull and vodka, and are comparable to having coffee after a meal with a couple glasses of wine.”

The FDA doesn’t agree, according to Reason Magazine:

In November 2009, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a warning letter to Phusion and 26 other brewers and distillers whose products are characterized by the “intentional addition of caffeine” (as opposed to alcoholic beverages that are flavored with coffee). Turns out the agency never explicitly approved the stimulant as an additive to any food product other than “cola-type beverages.” Unless the manufacturers of Four Loko and similar products can prove that adding caffeine to alcohol is “generally recognized as safe,” the FDA may force them to remove their products from the marketplace. (Energy drinks, on the other hand, are considered “dietary supplements” rather than “food,” and are regulated under a different law.)

Besides containing caffeine and 12% alcohol, Four Loko is also loaded with the stimulants taurine and guarana. For drinkers, the beauty of this “cocaine in a can” is that it is:

1. Guaranteed to get you drunk
2. Guaranteed to prevent your drunk ass from falling asleep

(Urban Dictionary)

No wonder national sales of Four Loko are up more than 400% in the past year, according to an ABC report.

Phusion Products, despite all of its official denial, is marketed toward binge-drinking college students. Heck, it was invented by them. The guys behind it know what college students want. They know their “alcopop” can keep you partying all night; they also know it tastes better than cheap, malty, high-alcohol predecessors like Steel Reserve. They know that the bright, energy-drinkesque can that Four Loko comes in is attractive to college kids.

I think the FDA will bust these guys. Four Loko is probably not long for the shelves.

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Written by Drea Knufken

Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.