Unclear Waters

Discussion
Jul 17, 2007

By Bernice Hurst, Managing Director, Fine Food Network

Nutritionists have been telling us for a long time that water is good for us. Now drink manufacturers are trying to make it “better” by adding vitamins, flavors and other ingredients to persuade consumers to carry on consuming.

As sales of sweet, fizzy drinks (i.e. colas) are falling, supermarket shelves are sagging under the weight of flavored waters containing combinations of vitamins, minerals, potassium sorbate, dimethyl dicarbonate, milk protein flavoring, malic acid and citric acid flavoring to name but a few. Then there are the various sweeteners – sugar, aspartame, invert sugar syrup and sucralose amongst others. Fruit can come from fruit juice, juice concentrates or even fruit flavorings. Many claim to be natural.

However, with all the added sweeteners, some nutrition experts assert the flavored waters are often no better than the colas and other sugary drinks they are replacing. Some 500 ml bottles contain as much as eight teaspoons of sugar.

Writing for the Guardian, Emine Saner gives chapter and verse on brands sold in the UK along with opinions from nutrition professionals warning that they should be drunk in limited quantities, even “through a straw” and certainly regarded as a “treat” for children rather than anything more frequent. Both the British Dietetic Association and groups of dentists warn about the effects on teeth.

Yet healthy attributes are often implied in packaging and with positioning nearby mineral water. As Ms. Saner observes, “Flavored water products are usually colorless, almost always sold in clear bottles, and are stacked with the plain mineral waters in supermarkets, all of which, deliberately or not, reinforces the impression of purity and freshness.”

Ms. Saner points to efforts to reach multiple target audiences as well. One brand “claims to contain a ‘natural beautifying complex'” while others focus on hydration. Bottles featuring cartoon characters persuade parents that their children will enjoy the drinks. But many seem to be aiming at the soft drink buyer.

“Waters are in competition with fizzy drinks, but fruit-flavored fizzy drinks are losing market share dramatically for all the reasons you’d expect – nutrition and well-being,” Craig Smith, editor of the trade magazine Marketing, tells the Guardian. “The flavored waters help to bring in drinkers who might have bought a Fanta in years gone by. Water is a relatively easy sell – most of the PR work is done by other people. We all know we should be drinking water and when manufacturers mess around with the formulation – if they add calcium, vitamins or other added health benefits – it can make it even more attractive to some people.”

Discussion Questions: How much potential do you see for flavored waters? Do you think the added sweeteners are going against demand for more better-for-you products? Or are they necessary for taste? How should they be merchandised and promoted at the store, particularly with regard to perceptions that they are healthier than soft drinks?

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11 Comments on "Unclear Waters"


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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Flavored-water isn’t new. From Kool-Aid to decaffenated, sugar-free drinks, they have been around for a long time–specifically, adding vitamins and minerals to water to make it even more healthy.

There are so many different consumer segments looking for different kinds of drinks (sweetened or non-sweetened, with vitamins or without, with minerals or without, with herbs or without, with fruit or without, with carbonation or without) that there will continue to be a market for innovative drinks for quite some time to come. The size of individual markets and the length of time they will last will vary so this will continue to be a very volatile area.

Frederick Chang
Guest
Frederick Chang
14 years 10 months ago

Flavored waters represent a growing market in supermarket shelves, and with their purported health benefits, will probably continue to grow at breakneck speed relative to conventional carbonated soft drinks.

The added sweeteners are absolutely essential to selling the product–after all, a lot of consumers who are buying these products are people who have been raised on the high-sugar Coke and Pepsi. Whether the artificial sweeteners represent a step in the healthy direction is more than murky: 1) Are the flavored waters substituting for conventional soft drinks? If so, people may benefit from the caloric reduction (but not more so than with diet soft drinks). 2) Are there any substantive long-term toxicity studies done on artificial sweeteners?

Consumers view these products as “better-for-you,” but the truth is that most Americans aren’t substantially lacking in the nutrients that are added in (read “What to Eat,” by Marion Nestle for more information).

Sue Nicholls
Guest
Sue Nicholls
14 years 10 months ago
As with most other categories, you typically see category growth through development of premium segments (and in this case, flavoured and/or supplemented water). The question of “Do you think the added sweeteners are going against demand for more better-for-you products?” is an interesting one. And it gets into the fact that many consumers are very naive when it comes to reading labels, or they don’t read labels at all. The assumption is that flavoured water is better for you than soft drinks. But, as in many categories, what consumers assume, vs. what the truth is, can be different. The other question, “How should they be merchandised and promoted at the store, particularly with regard to perceptions that they are healthier than soft drinks?” The merchandising of flavoured waters should not necessarily be affected by health perceptions. Consumers are still going to be looking for their favorite new flavoured water, so strong display support is key. Also, if trading soft drink consumers (or other beverage consumers) up to flavored water represents increased “$$ per sip,” then… Read more »
Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
14 years 10 months ago

Flavored water isn’t new, it’s back in vogue. How many of you were raised with Kool-Aid? The flavored waters that succeed will be the ones with the flavor and natural sweetener. Stevia products will be hitting the market and will benefit both. Stevia is an all natural sweetener made from a plant in South America with no calories. The consumer is looking for a “good for you” soft drink alternative.

James Tenser
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Worth remembering in this context: All soft drinks are flavored water.

Some of the new super-waters are sugar-laden, but there are others that are lightly sweetened with sucralose and fruit essences. It can take a close read of the labels to spot the differences.

Since many of us have been habituated to highly-sweetened sodas and tea drinks, a shift to these beverages may be a step in the right direction, health-wise. It would be nice to see the preservatives eliminated, but that may be impossible if flavor quality is a concern.

The proliferation of these products (and energy drinks, teas and coffees) is more evidence of the power of novelty in products aimed at immediate consumption. If it fits the image, sip it. In the end, it may not be so much about well-being, or even taste. It may be more about being in style.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Who thinks water (at least bottled water) tastes bad? Flavored water seems to do well with…er…the same demographics that used to over index for soft drinks. Maybe there’s a pattern here….

Laura Davis-Taylor
Guest
Laura Davis-Taylor
14 years 10 months ago

The discussion thread is clearly pointing to the fact that even with water there are various subsets of consumers to please…some for taste, some for stated benefits and some to simply steer clear of sugar and carbonated beverages. Like everything else these days, I suppose we need to support this category with lots of choices if we’re to make everyone happy!

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
14 years 10 months ago

Not too sure about the whole bottled water industry but I think there is a backlash going on in the environmental community as to all those little bottles piling up in landfills instead of being recycled. They (the industry) should create filling stations where people can refill their own containers of any size, not just those 20 liter jugs.

Liz Crawford
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

When the flavored water purports to contain vitamins, protein or electrolytes, then the ante is upped. Not only do these waters taste better, but are justified by being better for you.

Further, younger generations may not even know that oranges grow on trees–so the concept of vitamin water may be more more compelling than a natural drink (or may even seem to be a natural drink).

David Biernbaum
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

I thought that orange flavored water enhanced with vitamins tasted really great until I read the label: 50 calories per serving. Two and a half servings per bottle. Hmmm, maybe I’d rather have a Coke.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Some flavored waters have no sugar, and they sell well, too. What may be of greater concern: children drinking high-caffeine energy drinks. Several times I’ve seen mothers giving toddlers those drinks. Without sugar and caffeine, where would the processed foods business be? Cold cereal aisles would be 1 shelf section 5 feet long, bottled soft drink aisles would be 10 feet long, condiment sections (ketchup, barbecue sauce, etc.) would be 2 feet, and the cookie aisle would be completely gone. There are many suggestions for a carbon tax. Maybe the food business should have a dental tax.

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