Not a weight-loss miracle. Not tasty. But Enviga sells.
While gulping down a can of Diet Coke, Susan Johnson, 45, found what she was really looking for--Enviga green tea, the so-called health drink that claims to burn calories while you consume it.
“It’s for my daughter Talia. She is always trying some new health drink or the other and is a lot into all this Gatorade and vitamin water stuff,” Johnson said. With a look of satisfaction, she scooped up a can at a Manhattan store.
The fizzy green tea drink has a yellow color. And the taste? Well, even the most passionate advocate describes it as “foul.” But the beverage has been disappearing off shelves of drugstores since its launch in February. The reason? Claims by manufacturers that that consuming three cans of Enviga a day--at five calories a can--helps burn up to 106 calories.
"I don't exercise and I try drinking health drinks because they keep you fit," said one fan, Noelia Ramos, 22.
Ramos forms part of the 18- to 35-year-old target group that the manufacturer hopes will down the recommended dosage on Enviga in the belief that it will speed up one's metabolism.
Not everyone is buying Enviga, which is jointly marketed by the Coca Cola Co. and Nestle. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nonprofit consumer group in Washington, has sued the two companies for misleading consumers by making what it says are fraudulent claims.
“The company is being very crafty,” said Ilene Heller, a senior staff attorney with the group.
The Connecticut attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, has also begun an investigation into the company’s assertions, which he calls "voodoo nutrition.”
Some nutritionists agree with him. “It’s an inappropriate assumption, that the drink ‘burns’ calories and helps people lose weight. I do not believe that there is sufficient evidence for that claim,” said Marion Nestle, a professor at the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.
A CSPI senior nutritionist, David Schardt, questioned what he termed the “misleading” findings of the study conducted by Coke and Nestle to support their claim.
The research in question involved 31 young men and women who ate strict calorie-controlled diets and drank the equivalent of three cans of Enviga each day for three days. They spent the third day in a special chamber that measured how many calories they had burned. The study concluded that most burned slightly more calories after drinking Enviga.
“The findings of the Enviga study are not based on sound science and are deceptive to consumers,” Schardt said. “This study was too short and the research was very preliminary and inconclusive. What happens after three days?” Schardt asked.
European studies conducted earlier have indicated that the calorie-burning effect doesn’t last beyond three days, he added.
Company officials, however, are upbeat about the new product. “It’s doing very well, considering that we launched it nationwide only on Feb. 5,” said an Enviga spokesman, Ray Crockett. Refusing to divulge exact sales figures, Crockett added that the company was not trying to dupe consumers.
“We have made it very clear that the drink is not a weight loss product. It is designed for adults who eat sensibly, have a healthy lifestyle and are conscious about their weight,” he said.
Most consumers of the drink are unstirred by the controversy. After all, the words “calorie burner” emblazoned across the green and silver can are pretty seductive.
“I don’t get to the gym very often these days so I try to keep fit by consuming less calories. That’s why I bought it in the first place,” said Noor Singh, 20, a self-described health-conscious sophomore at Pennsylvania State University.
The taste, however, took a little getting used to. “I almost threw up,” he said about his first try.
But some parents are worried about what they see as an unhealthy trend. “Taking out the trash and helping around the house would probably burn more calories, but kids are just so lazy these days,” said Alissa Vasquez, 42. She added that she was always chiding her teenage son, Juan, for trying to offset the weight gains of his sedentary lifestyle by consuming diet drinks.
Interestingly, most health food stores like the national chain Vitamin Shoppe are not selling Enviga. “None of the customers have brought the product to our notice, nor has the company sent product notices about it,” said Omar Ghazali, manager of the 57th Street branch in midtown Manhattan.
The drink, however, is being sold in chain drugstores and supermarkets, where apparently there is great demand. At a Duane Reade in upper Manhattan, a solitary can of Enviga remained.
The store’s manager, Mamadou Sy, said, "We're getting in another shipment of 10 cases tomorrow."