Business

In energy drink battle, one claims to help with Alzheimer’s. That’s nonsense, other says.

Vital Pharmaceuticals aka VPX Sports

This story has been updated.

The battle of the energy drinks — Monster vs. Bang — could play out soon in a California courtroom.

Again.

On Wednesday, Monster filed an expanded lawsuit in a California district court with 12 complaints against Vital Pharmaceuticals aka VPX Sports and its chief executive. The new suit charges that VPX markets its Bang drink unfairly, attempts to “steal Monster’s trade secrets and employees,” deceives consumers through “weaponized faux science” and engages in “guerrilla tactics” by “stealing in-store shelf space from competitors.”

The expanded suit follows the March 28 suit VPX Sports filed against Monster and its affiliate Reign Beverage Company in Florida’s Southern District courtroom. That complaint claimed Monster intentionally infringed on VPX’s Bang energy drinks by creating “a knockoff brand called Reign to shamelessly copy and cause consumer confusion.”

The latest back-and-forth battle between the rival energy drink companies stems from the September filing by Monster, but this time with a new legal team representing Monster. Shook, Hardy & Bacon is out. Hueston Hennigan, a Los Angeles firm, is in.

September filing

Monster Energy Corp., based in Delaware but with a principal place of business in Corona, California, filed a lawsuit on Sept. 4, 2018, in a California district court against Vital Pharmaceuticals aka VPX Sports, which is based in Broward’s Weston.

The suit, which also names VPX owner Jack Owoc, alleges that VPX Sports, which markets the energy drink Bang, uses deceptive advertising and marketing.

Bang “is nothing short of a miracle drink that delivers benefits and cures that have evaded scientists for decades,” according to the suit, filed by Marc Miles, a California lawyer with Shook, Hardy & Bacon. The firm also has an office in Miami.

The suit lists four complaints centering on violation of California laws concerning unfair competition, false advertising and trade libel that “disparages” energy drink companies like Monster. VPX markets Bang through 15 store distributors in California and also nationwide via vitamin stores like GNC and convenience stores like 7-Eleven.

“Monster is likely to suffer, has suffered, and will continue to suffer damages to its business and goodwill, the loss of sales and profits it would have made but for [VPX’s] wrongful acts, and increased advertising and marketing costs, all in an amount to be proven at trial,” the suit reads.

On the afternoon of Sept. 7, Owoc, a former science teacher at Miramar High School and Walter C. Young Middle School, released a lengthy response via email to the Miami Herald over Monster’s accusations.

“Consumers choose Bang because it’s more effective, tastes better, and doesn’t contain harmful amounts of sugar and highly suspect ingredients like D-glucuronolactone contained in Monster,” Owoc wrote.

“Research has proven that Monster causes disturbances in heart beat. Research has also proven that caffeine is safe alone but combined with sugar can be deadly.. Bang contains zero sugar. Monster’s flagship energy drink (Green M) contains a massive health-robbing 54 grams of sugar per can. High sugar beverages like Monster’s flagship energy drink have been implicated for their role in contributing to the obesity epidemic, diabetes, Syndrome X, heart attack, metabolic dysregulation and a myriad of other health problems,” Owoc said.

Bang has 300 milligrams of caffeine per 16 ounce can. Monster has 240 milligrams in its 24 ounce can, the equivalent of seven cans of Coca-Cola. Up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is considered generally safe for adults by the Mayo Clinic but cautions that children and adolescents should not be consuming that much caffeine daily.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends adolescents ages 12-18 not exceed 100 milligrams of caffeine a day, about the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee, the Miami Herald reported in 2017. The organization also recommended that adolescents should not consume energy drinks.

On VPX’s website, Owoc, who founded the company in 1993 and is listed as Chief Scientific Officer, says: “I intended to hold myself and the company to a higher standard than any other company on the planet. In fact, I wanted to run VPX like a pharmaceutical company and adhere closer to their higher standards.”

VPX manufactures the Bang energy drink and the weight loss supplement Redline.

Owoc, Miles says, “touts himself as VPX’s ‘Chief Scientific Officer,’” but “his qualifications seem to be based exclusively on his previous stint as a high school science teacher.”

Monster cited videos Owoc posted on social media sites like YouTube and Instagram to promote Bang that suggest the product’s “Super Creatine” ingredient is “20 times more effective at reaching the brain than other forms of creatine,” a compound the body makes to supply energy for muscular contraction.

“Creatine can be made synthetically, [but] most people get creatine through seafood and red meat. The body’s liver, pancreas and kidneys also make creatine,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

The suit challenges VPX’s claims that consumption of Bang can “reverse mental retardation ... can also help cure Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease and other forms of dementia” and is “the healthiest energy drink.”

There are no current cures for these neurological conditions.

“Even if Bang could deliver [its] promised benefits, which again it does not, the ingredients at the heart of [VPX’s] claims — Super Creatine are sprinkled into Bang in such low amounts that none of the purported benefits could ever be delivered through safe consumption of Bang,” Miles’ suit reads.

Owoc’s response: “These allegations are purposely falsified and untrue,” he said, calling attention to his video.

“I never claim that Bang can reverse mental retardation and help cure diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and other forms of dementia. Bang is infinitely safer and healthier than Monster – consumption of Monster is associated with 17 deaths, heart attack, heart beat irregularities and countless adverse event reports. To the best of my knowledge we have sold over 100,000,000 cans of Bang and we have never had even one adverse event report,” Owoc wrote.

Dr. Steven Nissen talks about the safety of coffee, caffeinated soft drinks and energy drinks.

In 2014, the Center for Science in the Public Interest released a report that said 34 deaths were “linked to energy drinks,” including 11 from Monster, since 2012, according to documents obtained from the Food and Drug Administration. But, the Center said, “the reports do not prove that energy drinks actually caused the deaths.”

The current suit, blasting Bang as being “marketed as a modern-day snake oil,” asks for a jury trial.

In 2011, VPX Sports had a marketing relationship with the Florida Panthers and Sunrise’s BB&T Center to call Redline Xtreme, the “official energy drink of the Panthers and BB&T Center.”

In 2008, following the hospitalization of four students from Falcon Cove Middle School in Weston who were taken to the emergency room with racing hearts and body sweats after they said they shared a can of Redline, the Broward County Public Schools Board banned high-octane energy drinks. These included Monster Energy, Straight Shooter , Red Bull, and Owoc’s Redline, a weight-loss drink that can raise body temperature, affect blood pressure and boost levels of mood-altering serotonin in the brain.

Owoc supported the ban and told the Herald in an email at the time, “Energy drinks are made for adults only. Children should derive enough energy from a healthy diet, daily exercise and eight hours or more of sleep.”

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Monster Beverage Corp. is alleging in court that Bang’s producer engages in false advertising and other business malfeasance. (Paul Mckinnon/Dreamstime/TNS) Paul Mckinnon TNS

April response

The latest March and April suits largely rehash the September false advertising charges, but with the addition of VPX’s trademark infringement suit, the war of words between the business rivals received a new jolt of energy.

Monster’s Wednesday suit, VPX’s legal team blasts, is an attempt to divert attention from the March trademark infringement suit.

Monster’s suit, VPX’s team said, “is a sensational press release dressed up as a complaint. Monster’s filing is riddled with false and inflammatory allegations, vague hyperbole, and, frankly, is a load of BS.”

Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.


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