Last weekend I wrote a post based on some pictures SAB readers had sent in of energy drink advertising targeting people who have EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) cards that food stamps recipients use to access their benefits.
Since then I’ve done some more research and found out that the tactic is pretty new – retail industry people I spoke to were surprised – and that the energy drink companies themselves don’t really want to talk about it.
Contacted for comment, Mike Rud, president of the North Dakota Retail Association, said he was unaware of the tactic.
“This is the first time this issue has been brought to my attention,” he said via email. “I have never seen or heard of such marketing strategy before. I just had a board meeting today and none of my members brought the issue to my attention.”
After being shown pictures of the advertising, Rud said he “would need to do a little recon” on the advertising before commenting further.
A Fargo-area convenience store manager, who would only speak on condition of anonymity, said the ads surprised him. “It does seem a bit strange that a store would blatantly promote the sale of candy and energy drinks for the EBT market,” he said. “From a marketing standpoint, these signs may turn off some cash-paying customers.”
Red Bull and Rockstar were unresponsive to inquiries about their marketing strategy. Rockstar hasn’t responded to a request for comment. A spokesman for Red Bull said via email that “the marketing strategy that has worked best for us is not to publish our strategies. You see, Red Bull is a privately owned company.”
It turns out that energy drinks are sometimes eligible for food stamps, depending on how they’re labeled. If they have a nutrition label, they’re eligible. If they’re labeled as a supplement, they aren’t. That’s according to the USDA website.
Oddly enough, soda is never eligible. Which makes me wonder how energy drinks can be eligible, while soda is not. Why allow one and not the other?
And all that aside, you really have to wonder at companies explicitly targeting what most of us would categorize as junk food to food stamps recipients.