Woolworths slammed for response to Prime drink 'hysteria'

The supermarket's response to Prime drinks selling out has been criticised, and marketing campaigns cashing in on the hysteria have been called into question.

A sea of yellow tickets in a Woolworths store has left child health advocates reeling with the supermarket's response to the Prime drink hype being brought into question.

Since its release in Australia, the controversial drink — created by social media personalities Logan Paul and KSI — has barely made it onto shelves with hordes of teenagers rushing into stores to snap them up before they sell out. Several schools across Australia have banned Prime products from school grounds.

The unexpected response to the popular drink product has forced Woolworths to implement a limit of five bottles per person, but what followed in some stores is even more concerning, child health advocate Belinda Smith told Yahoo News Australia.

"I thought I’d pop into the supermarket to see what all the hype was about. The shop attendant told me they were basically sold before the shelf could be fully stocked," she said. "And how are the stores responding?" she questioned. "Look at all these yellow tags and reduced price tag for other similar drinks. We're dealing with marketing hysteria".

Prime Hydration drinks (left) stacked shelves in Woolworths showing range of sports and energy drinks (right)
Prime drinks have been flying off the shelves in Woolworths with other similar drinks being slashed in price in response. Source: Facebook/The Root Cause

Alarming 'marketing power' of Prime drinks

A photo shared with Yahoo shows a selection of sports and energy drinks slashed in price including Red Bull, V and even ice tea, seemingly to entice those who were seeking the sold-out Prime drinks. Ms Smith, CEO of The Root Cause, said the popularity of Prime has highlighted "just how significant marketing is when it comes to the pester power of kids".

Her issue is with Woolworths encouraging the purchase of energy or hydration drinks, which arguably, shouldn't be readily available for children to begin with. "If ever there was a case to show the absolute power that marketing has over our kids' desires for food, it’s Prime drinks," she said.

Consumer expert Gary Mortimer said while Woolworths could be behind the slashing of other similar drinks, it's more likely a move by rival brands. "Like any brand in a competitive market where there are other choices, when a new entrant enters the marketplace, that brand would want to do everything it possibly can to limit market share erosion," he explained to Yahoo. "That might be doing some weekly promotions, it might be discounts, or heavy advertising on TV or on social media, but it would take, I guess, proactive steps to mitigate market loss".

Prime Hydration drink by Logan Paul on Woolworth supermarket shelves.
Prime drinks, founded by social media personalities Logan Paul (pictured) and KSI, launched in Woolworths last month. Source: Instagram and Twitter / ChroniqGames

Are Prime Hydration drinks bad for children?

There are two drinks under the Prime name — Prime Hydration and Prime Energy. The energy drink has proved the most troublesome because of its excessive caffeine content. It's not available to purchase legally in Australia, but it's reportedly being sold illegally through online retailers. The hype we're seeing in Aussie supermarkets is around Prime Hydration — a coconut water-based electrolyte drink.

While Prime Hydration drinks, unlike the energy drinks, aren't necessarily "harmful" to children, Ms Smith questioned whether kids require them at all. That's because hydration drinks like Powerade or Gatorade, which are "prolific on supermarket shelves", are aimed at professional athletes, not teens. Despite being caffeine-free, bottles of Prime Hydration include a disclaimer saying it's not suitable for children under the age of 15, pregnant or breastfeeding women.

"Our kids don't need to replace their electrolytes unless they're doing high-intensity sport for more than an hour," she told Yahoo. "Water and some fruit like an orange wedge are sufficient. Do not fall for the marketing hype."

teenagers rushing into Woolworths in Perth for Prime Hydration drink launch.
Prime Hydration launched in Woolworths last month causing a stampede of teenagers rushing in to grab them. Source: TikTok

What's in Prime Hydration drinks?

Additionally, most sports drinks contain large amounts of sugar, "and if they don't have sugar, they have the sweeteners in them," she said — and looking at the ingredients list, Prime Hydration drinks are no different. "These Prime drinks are using artificial sweeteners instead of sugars, and we don't know what the long-term effects of artificial sweeteners are yet," she said. "These ingredients can potentially disrupt the gut bacteria, which then has a knock-on impact on a wide range of health issues, including mental health".

Calls for Aussie government to 'step in'

The buzz around Prime drinks is likely due to the celebrity endorsement attached to it, Ms Smith said. Founded by two popular Youtubers, Logan Paul and KSI, they're almost role models for young boys especially. While parents "definitely have a responsibility" when it comes to limiting such foods, she said "we need the government to step in and have a stronger stance" in Australia.

"It's really hard as a parent being on the receiving end of the marketing behind these products," Ms Smith said. "Particularly in today's world where parents are super busy with work encroaching more and more into home life."

Ms Smith noted that marketing tactics including "cute pictures", celebrity endorsements and sales and promotions contribute to higher demand among children, making products like Prime more appealing.

"We need to have stronger marketing controls over these foods because of the impacts that it's having on kids. I definitely think our government could do a better job," she explained. "But I do believe that food manufacturers have a social, corporate responsibility for supporting the health of the nation."

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