COLUMBIA — Four Loko fans will be able to find a caffeine-free version of the alcoholic drink on shelves any day.
The Columbia Schnucks, one of the stores that has decided to continue selling the product, expects to have the reformulated drink available by Thursday.
Stores nationwide have been instructed by Phusion Projects, the creators of Four Loko, to pull the caffeinated version of the product from their shelves by Dec. 13, but some Columbia stores are unsure if they want to sell the reformulated drink at all.
Four Loko was thrust into headlines recently when nine Central Washington University students were hospitalized after drinking the flavored alcoholic beverage with other mixed drinks. Shortly before receiving a warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration about caffeine as an "unsafe food additive" in alcoholic beverages, Phusion Projects announced it would remove caffeine from the product.
After being reformulated, the drink will still contain 12 percent alcohol, so each 23.5 ounce can has about as much alcohol as a six-pack of beer.
Even with the caffeine gone, alcohol educator Joan Masters at MU's Wellness Resource Center believes Four Loko has the potential to be dangerous.
She said the biggest risk about Four Loko is that people often don't realize how much alcohol they're drinking, and most of the time, they're drinking an entire can within a short period of time, which she described as risky behavior.
For example, Masters said that if a 120 pound woman drank a Four Loko in one hour, she would have a blood alcohol level of 0.21 percent — 0.13 above the legal driving limit.
At 0.21 percent, Masters said, you might know where you are or what you are doing, but walking may be difficult and vision would be blurry.
“People just need to be educated about what they’re drinking and what they’re putting into their bodies,” she said.
At Hy-Vee, each store has to make its own decision about whether or not to carry the product.
“We directed our stores to take the caffeinated alcohol product off the shelves, but we have no stance on whether or not the reformulated product is appropriate to carry or not,” said Hy-Vee spokeswoman Ruth Comer from the chain's corporate office in West Des Moines, Iowa. “But as far as adding them back in, it’s up to the stores to determine what they want to carry.”
Of the three Hy-Vees in Columbia, only the Conley location had decided to sell the drink as of Wednesday afternoon, but wine and spirits manager John Wheeler said he doesn't expect the first shipment of the reformulated Four Loko until late December.
Wheeler said he decided to sell the drink because of its popularity.
“I would imagine they will sell pretty good,” he said. “But I think that’s just one of those things we’ll have to wait and see about.”
For Floyd Durk, liquor manager at Patricia's Foods, bringing in the new product seems like a bad idea, but Durk said he didn't sell the caffeinated version, either.
“I have not brought them in and will not bring them in,” Durk said. “It’s just a product that I don’t want to sell. From what I’ve read about it, it seems like nothing but trouble.”
Even though the new version will be tamer and won't have the potentially dangerous mix of caffeine and alcohol, Durk said the drink sends up red flags.
“I have to read more and find out more about it,” he said. “But I don’t think I’m going to bring it in. It’s had too much adverse attention, and I just don’t’ feel comfortable selling it.”