|Red Bull's makers claim they're being blackmailed by someone threatening to taint the energy drink with some awful substance.
No, that foreign agent isn't more taurine or an extra backhoe of sugar.
Officials at Red Bull's headquarters in Vienna say extortionists have threatened to dump fecal matter into the energy drink unless they get paid off, according to Reuters. The perpetrators told Red Bull where the compromised cans would end up, but checks of Red Bull supplies at those stores turned up nothing unusual.
The threats have been under investigation since early March, but the motive behind them hasn't been nearly as tough to parse. According to Forbes, Red Bull sales grew 12% in 2011 to $5.6 billion Meanwhile, Red Bull co-founder Dieter Mateschitz has a net worth of $7.1 billion. That makes him Austria's richest person and the 162nd-wealthiest in the world.
The company doesn't exactly keep a low profile, either. Red Bull has slapped its name on professional soccer teams, sponsored daredevil Felix Baumgartner's record-breaking skydive from near space and has a Formula 1 racing team starting its season this weekend. It's also part of an energy drink industry that has come under increased scrutiny in recent months.
Back in January, a U.S. consumer filed suit against the company claiming its products don't have as much caffeine content as buyers are led to believe. That's a fairly light accusation by energy drink standards, especially when The New York Times reports that not only does 5-Hour Energy face similar claims, but that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating 5-Hour Energy's role in the deaths of 13 people in the last four years.
Monster Energy (MNST) is also under scrutiny. It saw its stock plummet in October after the FDA confirmed "adverse incident reports" of five deaths involving Monster energy drinks. The company is now being sued by the parents of a 14-year-old Maryland girl who died from heart problems in December 2011 after drinking Monster Energy on two consecutive days. Monster disputes the connection between her death and the drink.
According to The Telegraph, an Austrian newspaper received an email from the Red Bull blackmailers on Feb. 27 stating that "we have already contaminated several cans of Red Bull" with human feces containing the hepatitis A virus. The email warned that the cans "would be bought and consumed in the next couple of days."
Thus far, the blackmailers have focused attention on Red Bull supplies in stores in Salzburg and Vienna. Neither Austrian newspapers nor police have indicated if the threats involve products overseas as well.