We tested PRIME against 20 sports and energy drinks – and the winner was clear

 ·5 May 2023

PRIME hydration has become a viral sensation in South Africa, and even though the scarcity aspect of its popularity has dissipated thanks to Checkers launching it widely, the buzz around the brand has not died down.

Checkers made the “hydration drink” widely available in South Africa on 1 May, launching the drink in four flavours at over 250 stores. The wide availability has also reduced the price to just R40 – after some trendsetters forked over as much as R700 to get their hands on the bottle.

PRIME’s launch in South Africa has been met with hype and confusion in equal measure.

On the one hand, it is being hailed as a marketing goldmine, with the viral nature of its scarcity and then wider launch leading to the drink being sold out – sometimes within hours.

On the other hand, some curious consumers looking to get in on the trend have found that the drink isn’t all that good, making it difficult to understand the fuss.

Local brands have also picked up on this.

Creator of local energy drink Mofaya Energy, DJ Sbu, caught attention this week by describing PRIME as “nothing special.” However, he followed it up with statements that he was impressed with the brand’s launch and marketing power in the country.

Other brands have been more vocal. One in particular – Slayer Energy – posted to social media platform Instagram, calling out PRIME as overhyped and positing that local alternatives are much better. In its post, Slayer challenged anyone to run a blind taste test, saying that the winner would be clear.

BusinessTech decided to take up the challenge.

The difficulty in pitting PRIME against any local brands is that they do not play in the exact same space. While PRIME does have an “energy” counterpart, this is not (yet) available in South Africa. The PRIME hydration drink on store shelves resembles a more traditional ‘sports’ drink like Powerade and Energade and lacks the caffeine punch.

Slayer, meanwhile, plays in the same space as Red Bull, Monster and the myriad of other caffeinated energy drinks South Africans can find in abundance on store shelves. However, Slayer’s flavour profile is much milder and more akin to a soda or juice with a bit of a caffeine kick.

Having tasted both, it’s clear that these drinks are all playing very closely together in the same ballpark – and if we’re going to go on taste, we’re not going to let a little bit of caffeine get in the way of us finding the best flavour.

The BusinessTech team took on Slayer’s challenge and not only blind taste-tested PRIME and one of Slayer’s popular variants –  but we tasted and scored every single sports and energy drink we could find, including DJ Sbu’s Mofaya. Going against all reasonable medical advice, we ended up trying out 21 different brands.

The team was invited to taste and score each drink out of 10 and to leave a comment on their overall experiences. After aggregating and averaging the scores, we come out with a clear winner.

The table below is the definitive BusinessTech ranking of the drinks – and a more detailed write-up can be found below:

[Note: Taste is subjective, and as the scores show, opinions on energy/sports drinks can differ greatly. All energy/sports drinks were procured from local retailers, except in cases where they are not widely available, like Mofaya and Slayer, which were procured online. The rankings are not exhaustive or comprehensive, as each brand has multiple variants in both sweetened and sugar-free forms. This list is just a bit of fun; please don’t email us complaining that your favourite drink was ranked low.]

Rank Drink Score (/10)
1 Monster Energy 7.45
2 Powerade Sports 6.77
3 Predator Energy 6.73
4 Energade Sports 6.68
5= MoFaya Energy 6.41
5= Score Energy 6.41
7 Punch Energy 6.27
8= Slayer Energy 6.14
8= Red Bull Energy 6.14
10= Power Play Energy 6.05
10= Dragon Energy 6.05
12 Energade Boost Energy 5.73
13= Move Energy 5.68
13= OSHEE Sports 5.68
15 PRIME Sports 5.41
16 aQuelle Sports 5.36
17 Bioplus Energy 5.27
18 ReBoost Energy 5.18
19 Lucozade Energy 4.82
20 Switch Energy 4.50
21 aQuelle Energy 3.14

The best: Monster Energy

Monster is a globally-recognised brand with roots in South Africa. Two South African billionaires – expats Rodney Sacks and Hilton Schlosberg – bought Hansen Natural Corporation in the early 1990s. Along with the acquisition, they got Monster Energy.

It’s unsurprising then that many local brands are vying for the same success.

Some of our taste testers immediately recognised the Monster flavour in the blind tests, showing how distinct it is and how it managed to set itself apart from the rest.

The standout feature is its sweetness and the lack of a lingering aftertaste that leads to bitterness.

Our resident energy drink sommelier described the flavour as “minerally juicy, with a pleasant taste – which can’t be said of its competitors”.

The worst: aQuelle Energy

The aQuelle brand is most known for mineral water, not for energy drinks – so it was quite surprising to find an energy variant at our local convenience store.

The drink is not carbonated, so it felt like a “flat Red Bull” to some of our tasters. Fittingly, the flavour was “watered down” and “weak”, while a recurring theme was that it simply had an unpleasant aftertaste.

The most scathing commentary described it as “urinal cake water” and simply “vile”.

Our resident sommelier said the flavour was “deeply medicinal and flat, with a bitter aftertaste. A harsh punishment for a disappointing initial taste.”

The trendsetters: PRIME, Slayer and Mofaya

PRIME ended up being easily identifiable in the blind taste test, but that’s not to say it was for the right reasons. The newest drink on the block was highly divisive among the tasters, drawing extreme scores on either end of the scale, indicating a “love it or hate it” relationship.

Tasters agreed that the flavouring is very sweet, and that the aftertaste is quite strong. Those who liked it described it as “pleasant” and “likeable”. Those who did not said: “Rather punch me in the face”. Opinions are divided.

Our resident sommelier said: “Tastes like an almond croissant with a weird aftertaste. Marzipan. A bit strange, but likeable.”

Slayer, who posed the challenge, ended up with a fair score – ranking the exact same as Red Bull. Slayer doesn’t have a standard flavour and mixes up its tastes each month with a mystery box sold on its site (currently the only place you can grab it).

It positions itself as an “energy drink that tastes like a soda” – and that’s the general consensus reached among the tasters, who described it as “smooth” with “good flavour” and “not too sweet”. Some found the flavour too weak and watered down, but overall, the likeness to an “effervescent” fruit juice was common.

Given the fact that Slayer is also sugar-free (the only type available) scoring this high among the sugar-filled drinks is quite a feat. Taste aside, Slayer had the most striking design for its cans, which goes a long way in selling the product.

Among the trendsetters, DJ Sbu’s MoFaya came out at the top, ranking fifth overall. MoFaya is making waves in South Africa, with a strong following among its founder’s fans.

But the drink may also become another big South African export, having secured FDA approval for sale in the United States.

The tasters enjoyed the flavour, though found it indistinct. Some described it as needing “mo’ flava”, while others said it was “nice tasting”.

Our sommelier, however, really enjoyed it, saying that it was his favourite. “This is the best one. Sweet and honey-like,” he said.

Author’s view

In conducting the test, three things became apparent.

The first is that most of the energy drinks, particularly in their base or original flavours – likely guarana – are all similar enough that the differences between them are negligible. We didn’t venture into tasting the myriad of variants at hand, and I’m sure many consumers have their favourite distinct flavours.

Secondly, sweetness and aftertaste were the main differentiators. Among the tasters, most of the commentary revolved around the initial hit of sweetness and how long the “bitterness” of the caffeine or artificial flavours lingered. A sweeter drink with a short aftertaste ranked higher on the list.

Thirdly, it’s apparent that consumers are probably more drawn to a brand than the actual taste. The fact that most testers couldn’t directly identify arguably the most popular and known brand – Red Bull – from the competition shows that brand recognition goes a long way. PRIME may be the hottest topic right now, but when it comes to actual taste, it scores pretty low.

Of course, all things considered, cost is also a major factor. Depending on where you buy these drinks, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything that matches PRIME’s high price point. At R40, it’s clear it’s more about the brand than any particular quality of taste.

Read: Checkers bringing ‘overpriced’ R400 PRIME energy drink to South Africans for R40

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