What is Prime Energy, YouTuber Logan Paul's controversial energy drink?

For being less than two years old, Prime energy and sport drinks are already enduring a major growth spurt.

Prime launched in January 2022 and is a joint creation between influencers (and former boxing rivals) Logan Paul from the US and Olajide "KSI" Olatunji, who is from the United Kingdom. They have amassed tens of millions of followers on Instagram, YouTube and TikTok and capitalised on their influence to create a line of drinks that have become an instant success and disrupted the energy drink category.

Prime's portfolio

The duo's first drink, Hydration, is a Gatorade-like sports drink that mixes coconut water and electrolytes, without sugar or caffeine.

The drink differentiated itself from its older rivals with a lineup of punchy flavors, which include ice pop, lemonade and "Meta Moon," a combination of blue raspberry, bubblegum and cotton candy.

Prime is billed as a "better for you lifestyle beverage that people could enjoy on any occasion."

It also hoped to eschew the "sports drink" label despite being one, since the brand says Paul and KSI "have fans who are students, doctors, teachers, athletes and everything in between."

The drinks quickly sold out following their launch. Pandemonium, like long lines and fans furiously grabbing for the drink, forced grocery store chain Aldi in the UK to limit purchases to one bottle per person at one point.

The hype surrounding the drink also carried over to the US, where it has garnered a strong following with school-aged kids.

A year later, Prime expanded its lineup to launch an ultra-caffeinated (and controversial) version called Energy.

A 12-ounce can contains 200 milligrams of caffeine, which contains six times more caffeine than a can of Coca-Cola. A 12-pack costs US$29.99 and is sold at several retailers including Walmart, CVS and Target.

Five flavours were introduced, including tropical punch, orange mango and strawberry watermelon.

"We launched Prime with one product line exactly one year ago and we've already grown to surpass some of the biggest players in the industry," Paul said in a press release announcing Energy's launch.

"It's been surreal to see our growth and now that we're taking on the energy space, I'm excited to see where we can go."

Health concerns

But this week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the US Food and Drug Administration should investigate the high caffeine content in the canned energy drink as well as its marketing efforts.

Schumer alleged that Prime Energy "has an eye-popping level of caffeine, and that's giving parents and doctors the jitters for the kids that are targets" and said that another issue is that "most parents haven't even heard of this stuff that their kids are begging for."

"Prime is born from the reels of social media and the enigmatic world of influencers," Schumer said. "Kids see it on their phones as they scroll, and then they actually have a need for it."

In response, Prime said that its energy drink contains a "comparable amount of caffeine to other top selling energy drinks, all falling within the legal limit of the countries it's sold in."

Prime Energy has "complied with all FDA guidelines before hitting the market and states clearly on packaging, as well as in marketing materials, that it is an energy drink and is not made for anyone under the age of 18," the company said.

"As a brand, our top priority is consumer safety, so we welcome discussions with the FDA or any other organization regarding suggested industry changes they feel are necessary in order to protect consumers."

Both Paul's and KSI's followers on social media skew young.

On Instagram, 61% of Paul's followers are 24 years old or younger (KSI's is 63%) and on TikTok nearly 80% of Paul's followers are 24 years old or younger, according to Fohr, an influencer marketing tech company. Prime's account on Instagram for the same age bracket accounts for 66% of its following.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no caffeinated sports drinks or other products for children under the age of 12, while adolescents between the ages of age 12 and 18 should limit their intake to less than 100 milligrams per day.

The FDA says 400 milligrams of caffeine a day for healthy adults is "not generally associated with dangerous, negative effects." The agency didn't respond to CNN's question if they will formally examine the drink.

If it does advance to a Senate hearing, it wouldn't be the first time. In 2013, a Senate panel held a similar hearing with top energy drinks.

"The leading energy drink companies at the time — Rockstar, Monster and Red Bull — all appeared before the Senate about a decade ago and were warned to be careful about their youth marketing pitches, but they weren't anywhere near as tied to an early teenage cohort as Prime," Jeffrey Klineman, editor-in-chief of BevNet, told CNN.

"It will be interesting to see how the Prime crew alters their pitch, or the branding on the energy drink to move it away from potential confusion with the sports drink, if there's a hearing," he said.

How much money is Prime making?

Paul said that Prime Hydration made US$250 million in retail sales in its first year. In addition to promoting it on their social media, Hydration has inked deals with major league sports, including the Los Angeles Dodgers, mixed martial arts organisation UFC and, most recently, FC Barcelona soccer teams, to become their official energy drink.

Sports drinks are a much smaller market than soda, but the category is "growing at a faster rate," said Duane Stanford, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest.

For the first quarter of 2023, Prime Hydration has captured 5.8% dollar share of sports drinks, according to data from Beverage Digest.

Although that's far behind Pepsi-owned Gatorade (43.8%), Coca Cola-owned BodyArmor (14.4%) and Powerade (7.6%), Prime's growth comes at the expense of those brands, with Gatorade and BodyArmor falling during that period, while Prime climbed.

And there's plenty of room for Prime to grow: Euromonitor forecasts that the US$13 billion sports drink market in the US will grow to nearly US$17 billion by 2027.

Meanwhile, Prime Energy has raked in around US$42.5 million this year, according to Circana data given to BevNet. Klineman said it faces tougher competition compared to its sports drink because there's a lot of "thriving brands" including Celsius, C4 and Ghost, which "are all larger by orders of magnitude and are growing quickly."

Considering Paul's appeal and social media, it's not a surprise that both of the drinks blew up so quickly, Klineman said. "Prime brings a youthful buying cohort that hasn't had a lot pitched their way beyond traditional kid's drinks. Paul is way more appealing to a 13-year-old than a juice box."