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A Tale of Two Thai Energy Drinks

April 20, 2018

The world of energy drinks in Thailand highlights the social and political schism in the country. First came Krating Daeng or Red Bull as it is known by its English name. Red Bull's founder, Chaleo Yoovidhya, made his fortune when he connected with an Austrian marketing executive in 1980 to make Red Bull a global success and generate a $20 billion net worth for his family.

Red Bull is widely known for its sponsorship of a Formula One team as well as other motorsports. It imparts the image of a hyped-up persona which the energy drink seeks to create.

In 2012, the founder's grandson, Vorayuth Yoovidhaya, was 27 when he struck a Thai motorcycle police officer from behind while apparently driving a Ferrari on the streets of Bangkok, intoxicated and at a speed in excess of 100 mph. Vorayuth is shown below being escorted by a plain clothes police officer for questioning following the incident.

The motorcycle police officer was killed upon impact though his body was carried more that 100 yards down the street under the Ferrari. Investigating officers followed a trail of car fluids to Vorayuth's luxury home about a half a mile away.

Vorayuth was subsequently tested for alcohol which was excessive. What would seem to be a slam dunk case has yet to come to any legal resolution as the young man has fled the country following a protracted period before any charges were even filed. Accordingly, in the Thai justice system, the wealthy seem to be immune from any consequences of their actions-particularly if they are rich and are not seen to be a political threat to anyone.

From the country that gave us Red Bull came Carabao, a very popular folk/rock Thai group. Some thirty years ago their most famous song was Welcome to Thailand and still one of the author's all-time favorites. The Carabao Group was founded by Aed Carabao and Sathien Setthasit in 2002.

Aed felt he needed a fallback as he was getting a bit long in the tooth to continue life on the road in non-stop performances. Moreover, he thought that his followers were the upcountry Thai, nitty-gritty folks to whom energy drinks under his brand would appeal. His concept was hugely successful and Carabao Energy drinks are now number two in Thailand. Red Bull must be looking over their shoulder as Carabao has mounted aggressive international expansion plans.

Recently, Carabao sponsored the Carabao Cup English Football League match in London's Wembley stadium. Interestingly, Manchester City defeated Arsenal to win the Carabao Cup. Manchester City was previously owned by former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who is shown below celebrating the purchase with a glass of champagne. He must have gotten a good deal as the gentlemen around him do not look happy.

Thaksin was super-rich having built his wealth first as a police officer and then enhancing his wealth by forming the Thai Rak Thai party (Thai Love Thai). He gained populist support from the rural working class against the traditional establishment folks in Bangkok. However, Thaksin could not help himself and his flagrant corruption led to a military coup which forced him to flee the country. Some years later, his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, formed a new populist party that elected her Prime Minister based on a rice support scheme to appeal to the farmers. Massive corruption ensued which led to another coup some five years ago and her fleeing the country as well.

The two energy drinks define the polarity of Thai politics-the rich and connected of Bangkok versus the larger agrarian population of the countryside. Corruption seems to be a common theme, be it the wealthy elite using it to maintain a wanton lifestyle or politicians building a populist political base to then exploit their position through corruption.

Therefore, it is refreshing that a great musician, Aed Carabao, with an honest appeal to his support base can become wealthy the old-fashioned way as an idol of the rural people.

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