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?