When professional surfer Danny Fuller needs a pick-me-up, he cracks open a 16-ounce can of Rockstar Energy Drink.
"Rockstar gives me that extra boost of energy and keeps me on point when I'm surfing," the 32-year-old Hawaii native, who endorses the beverage at surfing competitions, said by email.
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Packed with 62 grams of sugar and 160 milligrams of caffeine per can, Rockstar accounted for 4 percent of the $27.5 billion global energy drink market last year, according to London-based research firm Euromonitor International. In the U.S., where Rockstar ranks as the third-biggest energy drink brand, the company has increased its retail sales more than fivefold to about $780 million since 2004.
The surge in Las Vegas-based Rockstar's popularity has made Russell Weiner, its founder and chief executive officer, a billionaire. The 44-year-old controls 85 percent of the closely held company, according to Orbis, a database of company information published by Bureau van Dijk. His mother, Janet, who serves as Rockstar's chief financial officer, owns the rest.
Based on the average enterprise value-to-earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization and enterprise value-to-sales multiples of Monster Beverage, Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Weiner's Rockstar stake is worth about $1.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Jason May, Rockstar's executive vice president of marketing, confirmed Weiner's stake in the company and said the billionaire declined to comment.
The energy drink market has been one of the fastest-growing segments in the beverage industry, having doubled in sales since 2007, according to Euromonitor. The growth comes as health- conscious consumers are buying less soda, and follows a 2012 U.S. Food and Drug Administration report that said 18 people died after consuming energy drinks.
"It's reverse logic because the secular trend is health and wellness," Kevin Grundy, an analyst with Jefferies Group LLC in New York, said in a phone interview. "It's interesting that the category has continued to do as well as it has."
The acceleration isn't expected to slow down. Euromonitor predicts the sector will expand by 43 percent in the next five years.
Weiner was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, the son of Janet Weiner and radio host Michael Savage. He ran as a Republican for a seat in the California State Assembly in 1998, losing to the incumbent Democrat.
During the campaign, he met Skyy Vodka founder Maurice Kanbar, who later hired him to work in product development. He left after a year to pursue Rockstar, financing the company with $50,000 he got by mortgaging his condominium in Sausalito, California.
Disappointed by the size of energy drink products then on the market, Weiner wanted to sell a beverage that had twice the volume of an 8-ounce can of Red Bull at the same price. He tested more than 700 variations before settling on the final combination of natural ingredients, including guarana and milk thistle. Southern Wine and Spirits of America Inc. became Rockstar's first distributor in 1999. Today, Rockstar is distributed to grocery outlets in more than 30 countries.
There's stiff competition. Red Bull and Monster Beverage Corp. trump Rockstar in market share. Market leader Red Bull created two billionaires -- Thailand's Chaleo Yoovidhy and Dietrich Mateschitz of Austria -- and had retail sales of $10.9 billion last year, while publicly traded Monster sold more than 220 million cases of its beverage. Together, the two account for 78 percent of the U.S. energy drink market, according to Euromonitor. Rockstar is a distant third with 8.7 percent.
"Unless anything unforeseen happens, I think it's highly unlikely that Rockstar will catch up," Grundy said.