* Monster being sued by family of 14-year old girl who died
* US says probing 5 deaths for links to Monster energy drink
* Monster says unaware of any fatality caused by its drinks
* Shares end down more than 14 percent
(Adds market details, background)
By Martinne Geller and David Morgan
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, Oct 22 The U.S. Food and
Drug Administration said on Monday that it was investigating
reports of five deaths that may be associated with Monster
Beverage Corp's namesake energy drink, and the
company's shares fell more than 14 percent.
Monster is also being sued by the family of a 14-year-old
Maryland girl with a heart condition who died after drinking two
cans of its Monster energy drink in a 24-hour period.
Monster, the top-selling energy drink in the United States,
said it does not believe its energy drink was "in any way
responsible" for the girl's death.
Still, the lawsuit and reports of other deaths could
escalate calls from critics including two U.S. senators and the
New York attorney general about the safety of the beverages and
the way they are marketed.
The highly caffeinated drinks with aggressive-sounding names
like Monster, Red Bull, Rockstar, AMP and Full Throttle are
often associated with active or extreme sports, which makes them
especially popular among young men.
They are the fastest-growing type of soft drink in the
United States, with sales increasing 17 percent last year to
about $9 billion, according to Beverage Digest.
With double-digit growth through the third quarter of 2012,
Beverage Digest Editor John Sicher said he expects energy drink
sales to exceed $10 billion this year. He declined to speculate
about future growth.
"I don't think they are going to ban energy drinks," said
Morningstar analyst Thomas Mullarkey. "The question arises
whether or not it gives them more firepower for increased
That could mean more extensive labeling requirements or age
restrictions, Mullarkey said. He added that the headlines also
made Monster a less attractive takeover target.
"This really reduces the likelihood that Coke would want to
acquire Monster," Mullarkey said. Sources told Reuters in April
that the two companies had discussed a possible deal as recently
as last year.
Coca-Cola Co already distributes a large portion of
Monster's drinks in the United States and in some international
markets. Monster has a similar distribution deal with
CONCERNS NOT NEW
The family of Anais Fournier sued Monster on Friday for
failing to warn about the product's dangers.
The lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court in
Riverside, said that after drinking two 24-ounce cans of Monster
Energy on consecutive days Fournier went into cardiac arrest.
She was placed in an induced coma and died six days later on
Dec. 23, 2011.
The lawsuit, filed by her parents, said Fournier died from
"cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity" that complicated
an existing heart valve condition related to a disorder called
The two drinks together contained 480 milligrams of
caffeine, the equivalent of 14 12-ounce cans of Coca-Cola,
according to the lawsuit.
A spokeswoman for the law firm representing the family did
not return calls seeking comment.
"Monster is unaware of any fatality anywhere that has been
caused by its drinks," the company said in a statement, adding
that it intended to vigorously defend itself against the
On Monday, FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said the agency
had received reports of five deaths and one heart attack that
may be associated with the Monster energy drink from 2009
through June this year.
The FDA said it investigates any report of injury or death
that it receives. The notices to the FDA's adverse events
database do not in themselves confirm a risk from a product.
Burgess said manufacturers are required to submit all
reports on serious adverse events to the FDA within 15 days of
receiving them, and that they are responsible for providing
follow-up information that could shed light on their cause.
Last month, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and
Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut sent a letter to the FDA
asking it to investigate the interaction of ingredients in
energy drinks and the effect of the caffeine on children and
adolescents. The letter followed a similar request from Durbin
In July, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued
subpoenas to three energy drink makers -- Monster, PepsiCo Inc
and Living Essentials LLC -- seeking information on the
companies' marketing and advertising practices.
PepsiCo makes the AMP energy drink, and Living Essentials makes
The combination of caffeine and alcohol came into the
spotlight two years ago when a handful of college students were
hospitalized for alcohol poisoning after drinking alcoholic
energy drinks like Four Loko. Four Loko's maker later removed
the caffeine from the drinks.
Monster is the U.S. energy drink leader by volume with
nearly 39 percent of the market, but Austria's Red Bull has the
highest share by revenue due to its premium price. Drinks owned
by Coke and Pepsi have smaller shares.
Monster drinks are sold in the United States and Europe, and
the company is rolling them out to Ecuador, Hong Kong, Japan,
Macau and Slovenia. It said in August that it was planning more
international launches next year.
The company had net sales of $592.6 million in the second
quarter, ended on June 30.
Monster shares closed down 14.23 percent at $45.73 on the
Nasdaq, making for a 42 percent decline since mid-June when one
analyst downgraded the stock to "underperform".
The case is Crossland et al v. Monster Beverage Corp,
California Superior Court, Riverside County, No. RIC1215551.
(Additional reporting by Dhanya Skariachan; Editing by Gerald