Caffeinated chocolate: energy’s new flavour

Student-savvy Awake Chocolate provides a new type of buzz for young Canadian scholars

The makers of Awake hope students turn to their chocolate bars when looking for an energy boost. Kaitlyn Emslie Farrell

As 20-somethings and university students are well aware, caffeine is the beez-neez.

Convenient for nights spent in the luminescent haze of laptop screens, or for late-semester surges toward final exams, caffeine is any (at least slightly prepared) student’s most loyal companion.

But what if that energy, so desperately coveted in periods of stress and fatigue, is restricted to ordinary, foul tasting and sometimes half-toxic beverages?

From Red Bull to Monster, to coffee and yerba maté, such commonplace sources of stimulation are not only tired and predictable, but mostly found in liquid form.

Enter Awake Chocolate.

Envisioned by young Canadians Matt Schnarr, Dan Tzotzis and Adam Deremo, all with backgrounds in the consumer packaged goods industry, Awake began in direct response to the increasing popularity of energy drinks over the past decade.

“We knew that the two biggest push-backs on them (energy drinks) were taste and price,” recalls Schnarr.

“So we set out to create something that tasted better than energy drinks and cost less.”

Following preliminary market research and taste testing, Awake bars launched in Canada Aug. 15, targeting densely populated regions of groggy and overworked 18 to 24 year olds: university campuses.

Aboard the “Eyes Wide Open” bus tour, Schnarr and the team at Awake are traveling across the country to promote an alternative source of energy while maintaining a fun, youthful personality.

“The appeal is for tired and busy people ... (Awake) is going to help them stay up late to get stuff done. We think of it as perfect,” says Schnarr.

Each bar contains about 140 mg of caffeine (including what is already found in semisweet chocolate), which is almost double the amount in a Red Bull, and for a fraction of the price.

But Awake is not only a different form of energy, it is also a different brand of it, according to Schnarr.

“From a tactic perspective, we are focusing on social media, sampling and PR. We will also be appearing on Dragon’s Den this season as a form of earned media,” he said. “We look at Awake and caffeinated chocolate as a platform innovation - meaning that we can launch many other products off of this concept.”

Yet even considering Awake’s commitment to premium, organic ingredients - a mandate that Schnarr stands firmly behind - there still exists scientific opinion that is apprehensive towards increased societal “caffeination.”

According to Dr. Carla Taylor, professor of human nutritional sciences at the University of Manitoba, Health Canada sets a recommended maximum of 400 mg of caffeine per day.

“Given that we like to supersize our beverages, it’s not difficult to exceed the recommended maximum,” Taylor said.

But while there can be some negative effects from high intakes of caffeine, reminds Taylor, “adequate levels of calcium are believed to protect against them.”

As for University of Winnipeg students, the potential dangers of caffeine are not determining the availability of Awake on campus.

Kirsten Godbout, manager of food operations at Diversity Food Services Inc., had to decline an offer from Schnarr to sell the bars at U of W in order to honour the university’s sustainability program.

Although Awake is currently available at U of W’s bookstore, “all coffee and chocolate at the University of Winnipeg must be fair trade,” Godbout said.

“When they reach that goal, we’ll be back in touch.”

In the meantime, Schnarr and company are not deterred. Awake has been approved by Health Canada as a natural health product, he says.

“Short of having (fair trade certification), our company embodies many of the same initiatives that the University of Winnipeg is leading with ... and that is the personality we are trying to portray,” he said.

Published in Volume 67, Number 8 of The Uniter (October 24, 2012)

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