Remember when bottled water was something you drank simply to quench your thirst? Actually, let’s back up a bit – remember when bottled water didn’t exist? If you’re over the age of 30, you probably do.
Today, of course, bottled water is the second-most consumed beverage in America (behind soda), and a subset of the category – functional water – is quickly claiming a large proportion of its parent category’s sales. We’ve all seen functional water, and most of us have tried it. It’s usually lightly flavored, often exotically, and includes vitamins and additives designed to energize, increase mental focus, improve memory, prevent heart disease and even burn fat.
Whether functional water can, in fact, be called “water” is up for debate. After all, if it’s flavored (even slightly), is it still water? We argue that it’s not, any more than Sunkist can be called water. But we digress.
Another heated debate involves health benefits claimed by functional water manufacturers.
In 2010, Coca-Cola was sued by a nonprofit public interest group claiming that the soft drink titan’s vitaminwater products made unwarranted health claims. Among the benefits claimed to be packed into various bottles of vitaminwater: that the beverage promoted healthy joints, supported immune function, and reduced the risk of chronic disease.
It didn’t help that each bottle of vitaminwater offset any alleged health benefits with 33 grams of sugar. Still think it deserves to be in the same category as good ol’ spring water?
But even if functional water’s health claims are to be taken with a grain of salt, that hasn’t stopped the category from expanding rapidly over the past few years. Among the new entries:
- Dream Water – This beverage claims to help you fall asleep and improve the quality of your slumber, thanks to three key ingredients: gamma amino butyric acid (soothes and reduces anxiety), melatonin (induces sleep), and something called 5-HTP (improves the quality of sleep).
- BlackWater – The Canada-based maker of these “Fulvic and Humic acid enriched beverage products” (water that is, indeed, black in color) suggest that their beverages help remove toxic heavy metals from the body and boost metabolism.
- Skinny Water – Water in its unadulterated, calorie-free form, has always been a natural part of any weight-loss regimen. Skinny Water ups the weight-loss ante with a line of flavored fitness waters that contain a natural appetite suppressant designed to help people shed unwanted pounds.
So what’s next for the functional water category? It’s hard to say, but Americans are a thirsty lot, and if the examples above are any indication, almost anything is possible.
MARKETING LESSON: It’s no longer enough for food and beverages to curb hunger and quench thirst. Americans expect more from their snacks, and they’re willing to pay a premium for perceived benefits.