The Untold Truth Of Monster Energy Drinks

Energy drinks are everywhere, and it's easy to forget they're a fairly new phenomenon. While there are a ton of obscure brands each looking to be the next new giant, there's one titan that sits at the top of the mountain: Monster. With the help of edgy packaging and an image that went along with the name, Monster is in almost every grocery and convenience store, and it has a devoted following. It's no wonder, either.

Look at Red Bull. There's an incredibly limited number of flavors and for the most part, the overwhelming majority of what you see on shelves is a single distinct but indescribable flavor. If you're not a fan you're out of luck — but no matter what you like, there's a Monster for you. Like orange, grape, or lemonade? Prefer iced tea or coffee to your usual energy drink-style fizz? Monster caters to everyone, and even if you can name your favorite with hesitation, there are probably still some things you don't know about this energy drink juggernaut.

Drinking with the Devil?

Most people just assume the concept behind Monster is just some clever marketing, but there's a conspiracy theory circulating that there's much more to the logo than just the claws of some unidentified monster we never actually get to see (but sort of want to). Those claw marks are at the heart of the theory, and it's claimed they're actually in the shape of the Hebrew vav, which represents the number six. There are three claws... and you can probably see where this is going.

In addition to the "666," there's a ton of other satanic evidence that's supposedly been discovered on cans of Monster. That includes the design of the Monster logo's "O," which some liken to a cross that's turned upside-down every time you take a drink. There's also the slogan — Unleash the Beast — that has stirred up some hate. Needless to say, Snopes notes there's pretty much nothing to the claims in the conspiracy theory, but that hasn't stopped the story from making the rounds pretty regularly since 2009.

There was a big sponsorship dilemma

Monster isn't just about the energy drinks, they're also behind the Monster Army, a program that supports and sponsors aspiring athletes in some less-than-traditional sports, like surfing, mountain biking, and snowboarding. Selected athletes get monetary support, publicity, and guidance, with some going on to become pro athletes sponsored by the company. One of those athletes was BMX superstar Colton Satterfield... until, that is, he announced he was leaving the company for religious reasons.

Satterfield's official statement (via Vital BMX) thanked Monster for all they had done, but also said he wasn't able to, in good conscience, continue under their sponsorship because of their marketing angle. He wrote, "The decision was not a light one by any means. I regret something seemingly so small, to some, as logos and various marketing, has to divide us; but I know it is the correct decision for me." Mormon Light reported that the response was mixed, with some supporting his decision and others having no idea what the big deal actually is.

It has all-natural roots... believe it or not

Love it or loathe it, everyone has to admit that Monster is still pretty controversial. Ultimately, that's what makes its roots so surprising.

Monster's creator and parent brand is Hansen's Natural, which is just loaded with a whole bunch of irony. Fortune says that no matter how unlikely you might think it sounds, the truth is even unlikelier. Hansen's Natural was founded in the 1930s, and it was a family business run by Hubert Hansen and his sons. The product? Fresh fruit juices. The company got its first overhaul in the 1970s when they joined the soda market, but still stuck with the idea of an all-natural, fruit-based product. The company trundled away, making a profit but not a killing, until 2002. That's when Monster hit the shelves, and between 2003 and 2011, their annual revenue went from $50 million to $1.7 billion. That's how you know you have a winner.

The label change caused a stir

For more than a decade, Monster labels referred to their "Supplement Facts," leading to a bit of a strange schism. Even the Food and Drug Administration was sent scrambling, needing to define the difference between a drink that's a dietary supplement and a drink that's, well, just a drink. It's an important distinction, and changes the laws companies need to follow.

CBS News reported it was only in 2013 that Monster revamped their labels to refer to "Nutrition Facts" and accepted the label of a "drink," instead of the more medical-sounding supplements, and it was only then they completely came clean about the caffeine content of each can, too. It was a big deal, especially considering that when Monster started getting big, most people hadn't even heard of things like guarana, panax ginseng, taurine, and niacin, all ingredients found in most energy drinks (and we took a closer look at each of them in this article).

In case you're wondering what sort of mess the whole "traditional drink vs. dietary supplement" really was, consider this: While Monster was a dietary supplement, Red Bull was a traditional drink. And, as backwards as it might seem, traditional drinks are more regulated than dietary supplements. Strange? Absolutely.

The Beastie Boys are definitely not fans

Monster and the Beastie Boys seem like a logical match, but that's definitely not the case. In 2014, Rolling Stone reported on an ongoing lawsuit that's honestly one of the stranger ones you've probably heard.

It started when Monster sent DJ Z-Trip a rough cut of a Beastie Boys megamix recorded from one of the DJ's sets at a Monster-sponsored festival. Z-Trip's response — "Dope!" — led Monster employees to think they absolutely had permission to put the video on their website, but the DJ later came back and said that's not what he meant at all, he'd only meant he liked it. The following legal case debated the meaning of the world "Dope!", and whether or not use of the music made it look like the Beastie Boys supported Monster. The Beastie Boys were awarded $1.7 million, but they weren't done yet. Rolling Stone said they were back in court the following year, looking for an additional $2.4 million to cover their legal fees. It wasn't settled until January 2016, and Reuters says the final settlement was undisclosed.

The have been many injury and death lawsuits

In 2016, The Daily Beast took a look at the round-up of death- and injury-related lawsuits filed against Monster, and it was quite the list.

There's John Staten, who suffered a stroke in 2012 after drinking three 24-ounce cans of Monster over a three-month period. He was 14. Anais Fournier was 14 years old in 2012, too, and that's when she went into cardiac arrest after downing two 24-ounce cans in a single day. Fournier — who had a pre-existing heart condition — tragically died after the incident. In 2013, 19-year-old Alex Morris died of cardiac arrhythmia his mother blamed on his two-a-day Monster habit, a habit he'd had for three years.

More followed. Joel Rine sued after he says his habit of drinking six cans a day led to a stroke, and in 2014, Robert Grim was diagnosed with stage four kidney disease he blamed on his 10-year-long habit of drinking around four cans a day. For their part, Monster denies responsibility and Popular Science agrees... sort of. They say that so-called caffeine toxicity isn't well understood, but add it's usually caffeine acting in conjunction with other factors that causes problems, not caffeine on its own.

They're banned in India — for a weird reason

Head off to India for a vacation, and be forewarned: You're not going to find Monster there waiting to give you a much-needed pick-me-up. They're banned, and it's for a weird reason.

In 2015, The Telegraph India reported Monster Energy was ordered to cease production and sales in India (along with Cloud 9 and Tzinga). The reason? The drinks just didn't make any sense.

They included both caffeine, which is a stimulant, and ginseng, which is a popular ingredient in traditional medicines that has the exact opposite effect as a stimulant. Those conflicting ingredients were the reason given for the ban, with the official decree describing the combination was "irrational and impermissible." Caffeine alone, on the other hand, was noted to be generally considered safe, but the levels of caffeine in Monster (and other energy drinks) warranted some more research. That was found to be especially true, says Down to Earth, when testing seemed to suggest as many as 38 percent of energy drinks tested (including Monster) contained higher levels of caffeine than what was disclosed on the label — a label which India also took issue with, calling it misleading.

There have been some insane trademark lawsuits

In 2016, The Chicago Tribune reported on Monster's dubious record: They'd filed more cases with the US trademark courts than any other company. They take their trademark very, very seriously, which is fine. But they've also taken it to extreme levels.

They've sued a craft brew house in Ohio for naming a beer the "Beast from the East," they sued a Mexican restaurant over their "Monster Kong Nachos," and they even sued a winery called Dassault Wine Estates for treading too close to the name of their Monster Assault. They've even sued a group of fish enthusiasts called MonsterFishKeepers, an online forum used to discuss their love of keeping large and exotic fish.

Li Chih, the domain's owner, didn't roll. Instead, he reached out the Suffolk University Law School, where students take cases pro bono. They spent years defending their case in court, and they won. The verdict was kind of hilarious, and the courts decided that since in Chih's case, using the word "Monster" in front of "FishKeepers" made it pretty clear no one was going to confuse the group of aquarium enthusiasts with energy drinks.

Jamie Oliver really hates them

Say what you like about Jamie Oliver, he's definitely opinionated and no one can take that away from him. When Good Morning Britain asked him about energy drinks, he called them "a prolific problem that's hurting kids," and condemned the fact there were no age limits on who could walk into a store and "load up" with a Monster. He claimed it was such a problem that around 13 percent of British children averaged a daily caffeine intake equal to 14 espresso shots. Other, more official numbers agreed to a point, and according to the European Food Safety Authority (via LadBible), 69 percent of teens and 24 percent of under-10s did drink energy drinks.

And it's complicated. In 2015, The New York Times looked at just how young Monster's target audience was, and said their campaign to target young gamers was particularly problematic. They added Monster claimed to have voluntarily stopped any attempts to target anyone younger than 12, but Monster has even found themselves in court over their marketing practices, facing a civil suit in 2013.

There's an age limit in the UK

It wasn't until 2018 that most UK supermarkets officially banned the sale of Monster (and other energy drinks) to anyone under the age of 16. According to The Guardian, the ban was completely voluntary and was announced by supermarkets like Tesco, Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Aldi, and Lidl.

Even though Monster carries a warning that it's not recommended for children, teens and children accounted for the majority of UK sales at the time of the ban. As such, it's not entirely surprising they're both targeted by health crusaders (including the watchdog charity Action on Sugar), or that they're blamed for things like kids who act out in class.

The ban comes on the heels of another UK initiative designed to make drinks healthier: the sugar tax. While many drink manufacturers lowered the sugar content of their drinks to keep from raising their prices for the government-instituted tax (via the BBC), Just Drinks reported that among the last brands containing so much sugar they'd be susceptible to the tax were Coca-Cola Classic and Monster.

Some ingredients probably do nothing

Take a gander at Monster's list of energy-giving ingredients, and it's pretty impressive. There's caffeine, which we all know about, and then there are a ton of B vitamins and what they call their "Energy Blend." It's supposed to give energy, sure, but does it?

Not all the ingredients might, according to Forbes. Taurine is a naturally-occurring amino acid, and while it might regulate energy levels, it doesn't necessarily give you a boost. Our research found that the Canadian Institutes of Health Research found there might be other benefits to taurine — like helping to prevent heart disease — but energy? Not as much as you might think.

Guarana (pictured) is a legitimate stimulant, and it's even more effective than caffeine. But then, take a look at L-carnitine. That might give you a burst of fat-burning power, but it's also got a whole host of controversies attached to it. Drink too much, and you might impact fertility levels or start to smell slightly fishy... although if you're partaking in Monster at a sane and responsible rate, there's not enough in there to be dangerous. Or, perhaps, to give you that energy you're looking for. 

There were claims of harassment and abuse

In early 2018, Monster found itself on the receiving end of a lawsuit. This time, it was over sexual discrimination and a culture of abuse fostered by the company's executives. Huffington Post says there's a whole list of claims in the charges filed by a group of women, and it's serious stuff.

One former employee charged that her ex-boyfriend was allowed to keep his job with the company even after he tried to kill her, and was arrested on charges of assault. Another employee claimed that after she started dating one of Monster's executives, she was promoted twice, then threatened with termination if she ever decided to break up with him. She went to HR when he turned abusive, and was fired.

Jamie Leigh Hogan, a former regional manager, described the environment like this, "It's a guys' club and you have to be able to hang. You have to put up with some things." Those things, the lawsuits claim, involve things like unwanted hugging and touching, derogatory comments, and outright hostility.

Their controversial "Girls"

There's a lot that's pretty controversial about Monster, and right at the forefront of the controversy are the Monster Girls. In a nutshell, they're scantily-clad women who travel to various sports and events to get some attention for Monster, and they're not always a popular addition to the events they go to. When they first showed up on the track at NASCAR events (after Monster took over sponsorship from Sprint), USA Today said the reaction was definitely mixed, with a good portion of social media suggesting this is one tradition that should be left in the Stone Age. They also spoke to some of the girls, like Morgan Abel. The Indiana nurse-by-day, Monster-Girl-by-night says she was shocked at the hate they got, while colleague Mariel Lane added, "It's almost as if we're only here for show, but we're human beings."

Regardless, the Monster Girls did kick-start a conversation in the Orlando Sentinel, asking if it was about time to end the tradition of NASCAR grid girls, much like Formula 1 already has. Reporter David Whitley wrote, "Parading women around as sex objects might not be the ideal way to promote respectful behavior toward them."