Flavored water leads beverages

Flavored and enhanced products continue to boost bottled water sales, but to keep the category profitable, retailers will need to stay focused on changing consumer habits.

Sales of bottled water increased 49 percent between 2002 and 2007, according to a recent report by Mintel, a market research company. Convenience bottled still water sales jumped 18 percent for the 52 weeks ended Feb. 24, 2008, according to Information Resources Inc. The channel was ahead of the 11 percent bump IRI reported for food, drug and mass channels combined.

While Mintel predicted retail sales of bottled water will continue to grow at an annual rate of 6.7 percent, its report suggested that the market for bottled water will slow as consumers become more aware of the environmental impact of millions of plastic bottles in the nation’s landfills.

The biggest share of the bottled market belongs to Nestlé Waters North America. Nestlé, which markets Poland Spring, Perrier and San Pellegrino, commands nearly a 30 percent share of the market, according to Mintel. Pepsi holds a 16 percent share, while rival Coca-Cola’s share has risen to nearly 16 percent, as well.

Branded products have been continually challenged by private label. Private label’s share grew 11 percent last year to represent a full 20 percent of the market, according to Mintel.

Private label may challenge brands when it comes to commodity bottled still water, but innovation in the category is still fueled by branded products. Excitement in the category has come from enhanced or flavored waters.

“During the first six months of 2007, virtually every beverage company launched an enhanced water line with added vitamins, minerals, exotic fruits or herbal ingredients, ranging from mint to mango to kiwi,” said David Morris, senior analyst at Mintel and author of the report.

Pepsi launched SoBe Life Water, a flavored water enhanced with vitamins E, C and B complex, and Propel Invigorating Water, an extension to its Propel line designed to provide an energy boost with a mild dose of caffeine. Pepsi also launched Propel Fit Water with Calcium, a product aimed at women. Last year, Coca-Cola purchased Vitaminwater and launched Dasani Plus, a flavored, enhanced version of its bottled brand.

Retailers are seeing results from the new additions to the category and are merchandising the segment for maximum impact. In one Manhattan location, Duane Reade recently featured Coca-Cola’s Vitaminwater on one endcap and Pepsi’s SoBe Life Water on a nearby floorstand.

Flavors and enhancers in powders or tablets are also making a splash in the category. Kraft’s Crystal Light has made huge inroads in the category in the mass market. Other players are making a grab for more market share and are positioning their products as providing health benefits, such as vitamins and electrolytes.

David Wright, senior communications associate at The Hartman Group, believed that flavorings that offer an absence of dyes, artificial colors, artificial flavors or artificial sweeteners are most likely to resonate with changing consumer tastes.

Zip Fizz, a powdered energy drink mix packaged in plastic single-serve “test tubes,” is expanding beyond Costco to Rite Aid, Bartell and Walgreens. Zip Fizz president and chief executive officer Riley Livingston said the product, merchandised near the pharmacy in Costco, is getting placement near the pharmacy as well as near the coolers in drug stores.

“When we went into Costco, our product was selling so well we saw a direct correlation to increased water sales,” Livingston said. The brand recently launched an orange soda flavor and soon will add a grape extension. The company is also working with at least one drug chain on a private-label program.

A newer entry to the segment is Nuun, which makes effervescent tablets in creative flavors, such as orange ginger, kona cola and triberry. Tablets are packed in a handy canister, are sugar-free and contain electrolytes essential to hydration. The company is expanding its distribution beyond specialty sports and nutrition stores. New from Nuun is U, tablets in three flavors that will be marketed to women.

“Tablets and powders may become a more significant part of the category as consumers move away from disposable bottles,” said Nuun’s vice president of finance Eric Edelson.

Whether consumers’ concern about the environment is strong enough to make them change their behaviors is unknown. “For many consumers, carrying a bottle of water has become a part of their lives. It’s something they are never without,” said Laurie Demeritt, group president and chief operating officer of The Hartman Group.

Mintel’s study revealed that only 18 percent of respondents said they did not buy bottled water because plastic containers were bad for the environment.

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