|The food stamp economy is no small slice of the U.S. population, and Monster Beverage (MNST) is taking notice.
The company, which revamped its label last month so the energy drinks are categorized as beverages instead of dietary supplements, is now explaining one of its motivations: to qualify for food stamp purchases.
"Monster Energy drinks could equally satisfy the regulatory requirements" for food stamps, spokesman Michael Sitrick told The New York Times.
Sadly, that's a growing market. About 47.6 million Americans received food stamp benefits, also called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, according to March data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That means the program added nearly 3 million Americans to its rolls in only two years.
The idea of buying an energy drink with food stamps might seem, well, odd, given that the program is designed to "buy foods for the household to eat, such as breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables, meats, fish and poultry, dairy products." Still, while cigarettes and alcohol are excluded from food stamp purchases, the program does cover a wide variety of products with little nutritional value.
That includes Mountain Dew, Oreos, Kit-Kat bars and Cheez-It crackers, according to Live Science. Still, food stamps can't be used to buy drinks that qualify as supplements, the Food and Drug Administration notes.
While eating junk food certainly isn't healthful, energy drinks have come under fire for some serious risks. Lawmakers have asked the FDA to examine the safety of the products, while a study issued earlier this year found that the number of emergency room visits tied to energy drinks doubled from 2007 to 2011.
Monster claimed the study was flawed, noting that it didn't support "any conclusion that energy drinks are unsafe for consumers."
The label change on Monster's beverages means the company is listing "nutrition facts" instead of "supplemental facts," and it's including caffeine content, which The Times says reaches between 140 milligrams and 160 milligrams, or about half of a Starbucks (SBUX) 16-ounce cup of coffee.
Questions about safety have taken a toll on the energy drink market. A recent regulatory filing from Monster cited "softness" in demand because of the negative publicity.
By reaching out to the legions of Americans receiving food stamps, Monster appears to be betting it can energize its sales with some help from the government's $81 billion in food stamp spending.