Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calls for FDA review of PRIME Energy
This summer’s hottest ‘energy’ drink, endorsed by a pair of high-profile influencers, contains an alarming amount of caffeine—and it’s marketed directly to teens and kids. Here’s what you should know about the beverage, marketing to kids, caffeine labeling, and Senator Schumer’s call for the FDA to investigate.
What is PRIME Energy?
PRIME is a beverage brand that boasts two contentious influencers, Logan Paul and Olajide Olayinka Williams Olatunji (who goes by KSI), as its primary decision-makers and public faces. The pair of content creators became first and most famous on YouTube, then later as opponents in a pair of high-profile boxing matches. Now Paul and KSI work with Congo Brands to market PRIME drinks, a line of sports beverages.
Thanks to Paul’s and KSI’s popularity among children and young adults — the two boast 23.6 million and 16.2 million YouTube subscribers, respectively — PRIME has sold some $250 million worth of drinks in the past year. PRIME Energy, the line’s newest product, debuted in the US this spring and is already hard to find on store shelves. That’s almost entirely due to Gen Z’s interest in the brand as a status item and the company’s viral campaigning. An American traveling in Scotland bought dozens of bottles as gifts for her young nieces and nephews, telling Washington Post, “It was basically the Tickle Me Elmo of this year’s Christmas gifts,” Phillips said. “Parents were desperate to get it.”
And therein lies the issue: There is no known safe level of caffeine intake for children. And PRIME Energy, with Gen Z as its target market, contains 200mg of caffeine per 12-ounce can — six times more than a can of Coke — and twice as much as the current recommended maximum of 100mg per day for 12-to-18-year-olds.
Senator Schumer urges FDA to investigate PRIME Energy
Given the extreme caffeine content of Paul and KSI’s new beverage and its popularity among younger consumers, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) held a press conference urging the Food and Drug Administration to review the beverage. “One of the summer’s hottest status symbols for kids is not an outfit, or a toy — it’s a beverage — but buyers and parents beware, because it’s a serious health concern for the kids it so feverishly targets. … A lot of parents may not have ever heard of it, but their kids have," Schumer said. "That's because Prime is engaged in a vast advertising campaign aimed at kids."
Congo Brands, Paul, and KSI disagree. The company released a statement asserting that PRIME Energy 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.” The company also pushed back against accusations that the beverage is unsafe: “It 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 business of marketing to kids
Advertisers spend about $2 billion per year marketing food and drinks to children, and the vast majority of those ads promote unhealthy products. In this way, PRIME Energy is not exceptional. What is exceptional is its popularity and cult status among fans of Paul and KSI, which help sell considerably more of the caffeine-laden drinks to children.
The potent combination of high caffeine content, targeting children with advertisements, and positioning the drink as a status marker have created the potential for a unique storm of health concerns in children not typically seen from a single product.
Schools in the UK have already begun banning PRIME-branded beverages for students, citing health concerns, dietary regulations in schools, and the distraction of children “removing themselves from their lessons to be seen drinking with the Prime branded bottles.” A child in Wales reportedly suffered a “cardiac episode” and required medical intervention “after drinking a Prime Energy drink.”
Stateside, the FDA could do more to protect consumers and their children. CSPI’s Science Director, Dr. Aviva Musicus, speaking with NPR, said, “[Added caffeine] has to be in the ingredients list if it is an ingredient. But they're not legally required to put the total content of caffeine on the package.”
Caffeine labeling in the US
People who want to limit or avoid caffeine should be able to do so by reading the label, and people who consume caffeine should be able to know how much they’re getting. But it’s hard to know how much caffeine any product contains. That’s because, as of now, there are no rules requiring manufacturers to disclose caffeine content on their labels, and manufacturers are often reluctant to reveal those numbers voluntarily. Those that do choose to voluntarily include caffeine content on packaging do so in discreet text or in less prominent locations, and these markings are inconsistent across the marketplace.
CSPI is working to change that. The Food Labeling Modernization Act is a bill that would overhaul food labels in a number of ways, including by requiring quantitative disclosures of caffeine content on foods with more than 10 milligrams of caffeine per serving. This would include many foods with coffee, tea, and chocolate ingredients, and others that may have added caffeine.
The FLMA would also make improvements to food labels in order to counter misleading claims, increase transparency, encourage manufacturers to develop healthier products, and bring label information into the online setting for people who buy groceries online.