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Tap into Flavor.

Byline: Barbara Sax

New waters blur lines with other beverage categories.

The water category is anything but boring. New products, such as naturally flavored low- and no-calorie still and sparkling waters and plant waters are bringing continued innovation, growth and new users to the category.

Plant waters, including coconut, aloe, maple, cactus, prickly pear, and other tree and plant waters, topped $501 million in sales, with 11 percent growth for the 52 weeks ending Sept. 4, according to SPINS data.

Refrigerated plant waters, with $37 million in sales for the period, grew 18.5 percent -- twice the rate of equivalent shelf-stable plant waters. Despite their slower growth, shelf-stable plant waters saw sales of $453 million for the period and generated the bulk of the segment's sales.

Chains such as Kroger, Ralphs and Vons, and even value players such as Shoppers Food & Pharmacy, have expanded shelf space for plant-based waters.

Waters, Waters Everywhere

A new wave of refrigerated plant-based waters is creating even more excitement. "The numbers suggest that the innovation in this category is launching through the refrigerated section," says Kora Lazarski, senior strategic alliance manager at Chicago-based SPINS. "Once maple water took off, it was off to the races for the category. Everyone started tapping everything. We've seen many more new product launches in the past two years."

Consumers are just as likely to find the latest products at a conventional supermarket as in a specialty market or health food store. "People used to have to go to specialty retailers to get healthy, natural products, but there's been a big shift in the pendulum as mainstream grocery retailers have adapted," notes Tom Zummo, CEO of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based True Nopal Cactus Water, a subsidiary of True Me Brands.

New versions of plant-based waters that boast added hydration benefits and on-trend, natural flavors are stealing share from carbonated soft drinks.

Several manufacturers have introduced single-ingredient watermelon waters. World Waters, which markets the Wtr Mln Wtr and DrinkMaple brands, recently launched DrinkMelon, an organic watermelon water. "We're getting more exposure at chains like Ralphs and Fred Meyer," says Allison Frazier, marketing manager at the St. Albans, Vt.-based company.

Taste Nirvana, based in Walnut, Calif., has debuted all-natural Coco Aloe, a beverage that combines Taste Nirvana coconut water and aloe vera for a new "superdrink." "Coco Aloe has 2 grams of natural fiber per bottle and no added preservatives," observes Tiffany Wattanaporn, director of PR and marketing for the family-owned company. "Aloe is a big trend right now because it's an anti-inflammatory and is good for digestion."

Hyping Hydration

Other brands are hyping the hydration of their beverages. The Maple Guild, based in Island Pond, Vt., has launched a line of seven flavored waters enhanced with antioxidants, electrolytes, B vitamins and green tea extract. True Nopal cactus water also features a combination of antioxidants and electrolytes.

Verday Chlorophyll Water, part of the Mumbai, India-based Chlorophyll Brands portfolio, has debuted three water flavors -- watermelon, cucumber, and lemongrass with ginger -- formulated with the antioxidant and cleansing properties of chlorophyll.

Happy Tree is positioning its lemon-flavored maple water, which contains only 6 calories per serving, against traditional sugary lemonades. "We don't think this is a niche business," insists Ari Tolwin, CEO of the Grahamsville, N.Y.-based manufacturer of maple water-based beverages. "We're looking at all of the things consumers are drinking and finding segments where it would be cool to reinvent those products without all of the sugar and calories, and without compromising taste."

As in other categories, hypersegmentation is affecting the coconut water segment of the category, and manufacturers are finding ways to differentiate their brands. "We're seeing a division of super-premium, mainstream and value waters," notes Jane Prior, EVP of global brand strategy and development at Vita Coco. Last March, the New York-based company launched Coco Community, a super-premium "artisanal" coconut water made with Nam Hom coconuts supplied by Thai coconut processor Cocos Enterprises. The brand is organic, Fair-for-Life certified and single-origin.

Prior notes that consumers are willing to pay more for a product that they believe in. A 250-ml single-serve container of Coco Community retails for $2.99, versus $1.99 for a 330-ml single-serve bottle of VitaCoco.

Sparkling Conversation

Innovation is also fueling the sparkling water category, which is seeing an influx of premium products flavored with natural juices, and featuring a no- or low-sugar content profile. The products are positioned against traditional carbonated beverages.

"The sparkling water category was starved for innovation, and there wasn't any premiumization going on, so we came into that space with an eye to bringing fresh ingredients and the locavore trend to sparkling water and elevating offerings in the category," says Bill Creelman, founder of Spindrift Fresh, in Waltham, Mass.

Alta Palla, the line of sparkling juices from Hi-Ball Energy that launched in April, is adding a four-SKU sparkling water line in 2017. The launch represents a bigger non-energy commitment for the brand. "Consumers want good taste, and they want natural and organic, and they want Fair Trade," says Todd Berardi, president of San Francisco-based Hi-Ball, adding that Alta Palla's super-premium look will attract new users to the category.

In the energy drink category, Cleveland, Ohio-based Avitae USA, unveiled Sparkling Avitae, a line of carbonated caffeine waters.

"Once maple water took off, it was off to the races for the category. Everyone started tapping everything."

--Kora Lazarski, SPINS
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Author:Sax, Barbara
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2016
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