If you’re the parent of school-age children, you’ll probably be at least dimly aware of Prime – the drinks brand that’s lately been changing hands in playgrounds for up to £10 a time. Promoted by YouTube stars Logan Paul and KSI (subscribers: 24mn each), this range of sports and energy drinks is based on a sugar-free mix of coconut water, electrolytes, B vitamins and muscle-boosting BCAAs. Some varieties contain caffeine; flavours include Tropical Punch, Blue Raspberry and Grape. Think of it as the bastard child of Red Bull, Vita Coco and Lucozade.

It’s easy to sneer until you see the numbers – Paul claims Prime made $40mn in January alone. And the truth is consumers of all ages are increasingly thirsty for drinks that not only hydrate but make them smarter, stronger, leaner, meaner, and maybe give them a gentle buzz as well. 

Three Spirit Livener, £24.99
Three Spirit Livener, £24.99

It’s triggered an explosion of “functional” drinks featuring adaptogenic and nootropic ingredients; plants that in some cases have been used for thousands of years to boost mood and cognitive performance. Trailblazers include the vermouth-like “social elixir” Three Spirit (and its wine alternative Blurred Vines) and Kin Euphorics, a rather woo-woo range of drinks backed by Bella Hadid that features everything from turmeric and the “aphrodisiac” damiana to complexion-brightening collagen. Fungtn is a non-alcoholic beer range laced with reishi, chaga and lion’s mane – adaptogenic fungi often used in meditation. HOP WTR is a hopped, non-alcoholic sparkling water brewed with nootropics and adaptogens.

“CBD soft drinks opened the floodgates for more experimental ingredients,” says Stuart Bale, founder of Crucible in east London, which has helped develop disruptive recipes for some of the world’s biggest brands. “Lion’s mane and cordyceps are very popular, and ashwagandha. People create ‘stacks’ of ingredients to get a wide range of benefits.”

Fungtn Lion’s Mane IPA, £33.60 for 12
Fungtn Lion’s Mane IPA, £33.60 for 12

Sex Education star Gillian Anderson’s cheeky new brand G Spot is an all-natural fizzy drinks range that promises to hit “the sweet spot between taste and functionality” (before you get too excited, it doesn’t claim to make you better in bed). “I’ve had a serious soft drink habit for the past 20 years, and I don’t drink enough water,” says Anderson, who is also teetotal. “I know sugar and caffeine are not good for me, but I haven’t found an alternative that has the same effect. So, I thought, ‘If what I’m looking for doesn’t exist, why don’t I make it?’”

Made from a blend of fruit juices, botanicals, and no added sugar, G Spot comes in three varieties. Lift is a fruity, peppery blend, featuring mood-boosting theanine and bacopa; Protect is a fortifying mix of turmeric, chaga, lemon and ginger; Soothe contains apples, sage, calming reishi and ashwagandha. I’m not a big soda drinker but I liked them – they were refreshing and not too sweet, with a subtle spicy and/or bitter herbal bite. However, when it came to actual function they didn’t move the dial. Maybe 20 years as a drinks journalist have left me impervious to herbal highs. 

Kin Euphorics, £40 for eight
Kin Euphorics, £40 for eight

The world’s leading market for new-wave functional drinks is North America. At non-alcoholic retailer Boisson, which has nine outlets across the States as well as an online store, business is brisk. “Demand is primarily coming from a mix of Gen Z consumers and imbibers who are looking for the ‘feel’ without the feel tomorrow,” says CEO Nick Bodkins. “But fully abstaining customers are a very small subset of our consumer base.”

When it comes to hero ingredients, l-theanine, a soothing amino acid found in tea leaves, is “a big one”, he says, along with “mushrooms and full-spectrum hemp”. Regulation is struggling to keep up with the pace of change – which can make brands’ claims very hard to prove. The quality of ingredients – and therefore the potency – can be erratic too, warns Professor Michael Heinrich of UCL School of Pharmacy. “Always ask yourself: do the producers provide evidence for the quality of their products and responsible and sustainable sourcing? Sadly many producers are not doing this.” He cites the example of the Rhodolia rosea plant, an adaptogen harvested in the wild, whose population has been decimated in the rush to meet demand.

Alas, I don’t think the plight of Rhodolia rosea will be keeping KSI awake at night. And if he is having trouble sleeping, it’s doubtless due to an overdose of Prime Blue Raspberry and far too much screen time.  


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