Chaleo Yoovidhya: Recluse who created the Red Bull energy drink


Chaleo Yoovidhya was the Thai billionaire who created a global brand with the Red Bull energy drink, which has given millions of party-goers, students and shift workers a caffeinated jolt. It spawned an industry of caffeine-laced pick-me-ups, which in 2011 was reportedly worth over $42 billion .

Chaleo, a recluse, was Thailand's third-richest man, ranked by Forbes magazine as the 205th wealthiest man in the world this year with a net worth of $5bn (£3.2bn). In 2011, Red Bull, based in Fuschl am See, Austria, sold more than 4.6 billion cans round the world with UK sales of over £230m per year.

The third of five children born into a poor Chinese-Thai family in the northern province of Phichit in 1923, Chaleo was poorly educated and worked with his parents duck farming and fruit trading before moving to Bangkok to help his brother run his chemist shop and becoming a salesman selling antibiotics. He learnt much about importing and distribution which would help him later. In the 1960s the scientifically minded Chaleo resigned to set up a company, TC Pharmaceuticals, in the old quarter of the city. He began tinkering with a formula for an uncarbonated energy-boosting drink loaded with caffeine, an amino acid called taurine and a carbohydrate, glucuronolactone. After years of work the result was Krathing Daeng, or "red bull".

Within a year of its introduction in 1976, Krathing Daeng's sales had overtaken all but one of its competitors to reach second spot behind the Japanese drink Lipovitan-D. The most important factor behind its rapid rise was Chaleo's unconventional marketing, which saw him ignore Bangkok, home to wealthier consumers. He positioned Red Bull to appeal to labourers and blue-collar workers: a low-cost product advertised heavily with popular giveaways to the likes of truck drivers, construction workers and shift workers.

He focused on conveying a sense of strength and power, and Red Bull, with its imitators, became the unofficial beverage of the expansion that turned Thailand into one of Asia's so-called "Tiger Cub" economies in the 1980s.

In 1982, the Austrian entrepreneur Dietrich Mateschitz became aware of tonic drinks" popular throughout the Far East, and on a visit to Thailand the then Blendax toothpaste salesman stumbled across Krathing Daeng as a cure for jet lag during his frequent business trips. In 1984 he approached Chaleo with a proposal to carbonate the drink and introduce it globally.

Red Bull GmbH was founded. Both invested $500,000 with each owning 49 per cent and the remainder going to Chaleo's son, Chalerm. Mateschitz fine-tuned the recipe for the Western market and started selling Red Bull in Austria in 1987. With more than double the caffeine in Coca-Cola, "Red Bull gives you wings", as Mateschitz's slogan put it – an apt description of the drink that would take revellers into the dance-crazed '90s. Cocktails such as Vod-Bombs, Jumping Jack Flash and Liquid Cocaine were concocted using it.

Mateschitz set about finding new marketing strategies. Some observers say that Red Bull's branding was revolutionary, calling it an "anti-brand" strategy. The firm avoided the usual methods of marketing; by throwing parties with unusual themes and free samples, they relied on "buzz marketing" or word of mouth to promote the drink. Another tactic was to convince students to drive about in Minis or VW Beetles with a large, blue-and-silver Red Bull can on top. The company also set about promoting the Red Bull brand directly to Generation Y, the so-called "millennials"; people born after 1981 who were believed to be cynical about traditional marketing strategies. This involved recruiting "student brand managers" who would promote Red Bull on campuses by throwing parties – what has become known as "viral" marketing

Gradually, a brand was created and cultivated which associated Red Bull with a designer image and glamorous lifestyles; it locked into youth culture and extreme and adventure-related sports, such as motor racing, mountain-biking, snowboarding and base-jumping, as well as dance music. Red Bull's target consumer segment began to adopt nicknames for the product such as "speed in a can", helping spread its "left-field" appeal.

Apart from its energy drink business, Red Bull also owns a Formula One outfit and two football teams, Red Bull Salzburg in Austria and New York Red Bulls in the US, and the company sponsors numerous events including stunt air racing and the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Chaleo the man seemed to represent the antithesis of the adrenalised fun his drink inspired. He shunned the media and had not given an interview for 30 years. From time to time he would sit on health committees in Thailand and advise politicians, but he was careful to keep out of the public gaze. According to his son Saravudh, Chaleo was always positive. "I never heard words like 'difficult' or 'impossible' from my father," he said. Chaleo married twice and had 11 children, five from his first wife and six from his second.

Chaleo Yoovidhya, businessman: born Pichit Province, Thailand 17 August 1923; married firstly (five children), secondly (six children); died Bangkok 17 March 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own