Pinelli had sold its Semtex Exclusive Energy Drink, Semtex Forte and Erectus Guarana Energy Drink in Russia for some time, but appears to have fallen foul of a request by the Russian health and safety executive back in January which called for a clamp down on the sale of energy drinks in public places and to under-18s.
The heath and safety authorities also introduced new rules reducing the permitted number of stimulant ingredients to one for alcoholic drinks and to two for non-alcoholic drinks, and it is this new regulation which has led to the ban on the Pinelli drinks, all of which contain a cocktail of ingredients including caffeine, taurine, L-carnitine, myoinosite and glucuronolactone.
The agency said that the products had also been censured because the labels did not include a correct warning about excessive consumption.
Not surprisingly, other energy drink manufacturers present in Russia are concerned that their products will be targeted next. With no previous regulations governing which ingredients, and in what quantities, were allowed in energy drinks, the market has become something of a free-for-all, and any number of brands could find themselves sharing the same fate as Semtex and Erektus.
Manufacturers and distributors have argued that there is still insufficient evidence to show that the combination of stimulant ingredients in their drinks has any harmful effect on human health, and that the new regulations are therefore inappropriate.
Nonetheless, press reports suggest that the Russian Institute of Food is drawing up amendments to the current regulations in a bid to close all the loopholes and ensure a much more uniformed and science-based approach to the authorisation of energy drinks in Russia.
Although Pinelli is the first company to fall foul of the new rules, it is in fact only a relatively minor player in the Russian energy drinks sector. According to market research group Business Analytica, the leading brand in Moscow and St Petersburg is Adrenaline Rush, produced by PepsiCo subsidiary SoBe, which has a 26.3 per cent share, closely followed by Dutch brand Red Devil (with 26.2 per cent) and Red Bull (with 17.8 per cent).
Building on its market leading status, PepsiCo is thought to be considering starting local production of its brand - until now imported from the US - using its ties with Moscow-based producer Megapack, which currently produces the Hooch alcopop brand for the Russian market.
Energy drinks first appeared on the Russian market about 10 years ago, and current sales are estimated at around 8.8 million litres/year. Volumes in 2004 increased by around 25-30 per cent compared to the previous year, and there are few signs that the growth is likely to slow - unless, of course, the new regulations mean that a large number of brands become banned.