If you need a snapshot of the state of liquid health and wellness—mind and body, present and future—you usually need look no further than Anaheim and the annual Natural Products Expo West. Last month’s edition, which, according to the show’s organizers, broke attendance records with more than 63,000 visitors to the Disneyland city, showcased what—at least on the beverage side of the business—could best be described as an interactive history of the past decade’s most buzzed-about functional components, from coconuts to Cognizin. It’s likely those who traversed the five imposing halls of the Anaheim Convention Center in search of fluid health-centric innovation would have walked away with the following seven impressions.
1. Chia is not just for animal figurines.
“I’ve never gotten so many Chia-Pet jokes in my life,” laments Chandra Davis, co-founder of Drink Chia!. However, she concedes that that’s how most in the mainstream public know about the chia seed, which had a significant presence at Expo West, including, as in Davis’ product’s case, drinkable form. After all, chia’s touted as the largest known plant source of Omega-3 fatty acids, important for brain and heart health and function. The seeds are also high in antioxidants and good for keeping hydrated as they are capable of absorbing nine to 12 times their weight in water, therefore prolonging hydration and helping the body retain electrolytes. “The seeds in the water soak it up like a sponge,” Davis says.
And, coming straight from the farm and into the product, they’re unprocessed and broken down slowly by the body, enhancing endurance.
Davis admits Drink Chia! had somewhat selfish origins. “I’m going to be a bit biased because this drink was actually created for myself and my family before we got encouraged to take it to market…We brought it to market in July of 2011 and really just tested it out. Back then chia in a bottle was a little kooky. But what’s happened in 18 months is that chia is everywhere,” she says.
Some high profile endorsements of the seeds in that time helped a bit.
“What’s happened is that people like Dr. Oz and mainstream media like Oprah Magazine and Men’s Health are starting to tout chia as the superfood of all superfoods,” Davis says. “The cool thing is we’re seeing a lot of conventional supermarkets sell chia seeds. So they’re looking for additional products that their consumers might be interested in.”
Each 10-ounce PET bottle of Drink Chia! contains 50 calories.
2. Sweeteners derived from plants and alcohol are go-to no-cal ingredients.
Stevia, monk fruit and alcohol-derived erythritol were just a few of the buzzwords throughout the floor of the Expo, as far as the new generation of natural sweeteners are concerned.
Tate & Lyle’s Purefruit monk fruit extract is the sweetener of choice in the Hansen’s Natural line of low-calorie flavored sparkling waters with fruit juice from Monster Beverage. Additionally, Purefruit sweetens the So Delicious line of dairy-free Coconut Milk beverages and Califia Farms’ Pure Coconut Almondmilk blend. It’s also in Califia Farms’ California Lemon Limeade.
As far as stevia’s concerned, among the brands on display was Zevia, a carbonated soft drink whose name, as you’d probably guess, derives from the natural zero-calorie products with which it’s sweetened. It’s available in a range of flavors including Cola (also a caffeine-free version), Dr. Zevia (a riff on a famous Dr.), Grapefruit Citrus, Ginger Ale, Strawberry, Black Cherry, Mountain Zevia (like another peak-inspired CSD), Lemon Lime Twist and Ginger Root Beer.
On the non-carbonated front, Alo has just introduced a low-calorie version of its aloe vera beverage. Vitamin-and-mineral-rich aloe vera known for a range of reported health benefits, including lowering cholesterol, easing gastrointestinal disorders and enhancing kidney function. Alo Light boasts 50 percent less sugar, thanks to a sweetener system that combines cane sugar with stevia and erythritol.
“The three combined gave us the best profile,” says Alo founder and president Henry Chen. “We’ve been working on it for a couple of years because our fans have been asking for that. We’re finally proud to release something that we feel really comfortable with and we know it tastes great and it really doesn’t compromise on the taste that our fans expect.” Alo Light is available in three flavors: Refresh, a blend of cucumber and cantaloupe; Bright, with orange and passion fruit and Exposed with honey.
On the non-liquid front (at least pre-consumption) Vitamin Squeeze offers powder flavored water enhancers that comes in a compact bottle of less than an ounce (24 grams for those into the whole metric thing), which the consumer adds to a bottled water; it achieves its zero-calorie formulation with stevia. Where brands like Activate and Karma Wellness Water put the vitamin powders or liquids in the cap of the beverage to be dispensed at the time of consumption, Vitamin Squeeze is just the vitamins and flavoring, leaving the water choice up to the consumer. Varieties include Fruit Punch, Strawberry Watermelon, Lemonade, Açai Grape Pomegranate and Pink Grapefruit, Black Cherry, Blood Orange, Blueberry Pomegranate Açai. Each product contains at least 120 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C and 100 percent of vitamin B.
“Science shows that vitamins are water soluble and are rapidly excreted by the kidneys,” explains Vitamin Squeeze CEO Bill McKay. “If you take a dose in the morning, you really need to replenish all day long. We do that in a very flavorful formula, in our state-of-the-art powder that rapidly dissolves.”
McKay encourages continuous hydration throughout the day, aided by the consumption of the vitamins that the body quickly depletes.
“People are getting a little bit bored with bottled water, so water enhancers have evolved,” McKay says of the fast growing segment.
3. Water doesn’t have to be boring.
Quite the contrary, bottle water actually can be cool. That’s WAT-AAH!’s marketing premise for its line of kids-targeted functional waters. Each sleek plastic bottle sports a hip, edgy illustration that tells younger consumers that drinking water—especially those with added functionality—is not only good for you, but pretty cool. “We stand for healthy hydration for kids and fighting obesity,” declares Rose Cameron, CEO and founder of Wat-aah! “It’s a brand that was named by my son; the label and the bottle were chosen by him, designed by him. The notion here is that water is so boring to kids. Make it cool and kids will drink more of it. It was a gamble. No more mountains, no more streams [on the package], no traditional messaging. This one promises that you’ll look cooler when you carry it.”
Among its ultra-pure varieties are Power, with added magnesium; Energy, with added oxygen; Brain, with electrolytes and Body, which is pure spring water.
Another of its products, pH+ is a naturally alkaline spring water, with a pH level of 9.0, which leads us to our next key takeaway…
4. It’s all about alkalinity
Wat-aah! wasn’t the only one touting the pH of one of its products. Alkaline water has become something of a buzz segment within a segment and there were quite a few offerings marketed around their pH content.
Essentia was an early entrant in the functional water space, having launched back in 1998. Essentia has a pH level of 9.5, which, combined with the brand’s proprietary electrolyte formula, enhances its hydrating qualities. Higher pH waters with optimal alkalinity are known to restore balance to the body, which can be thrown out of whack when too many acidic properties are present. Anything above a pH of 7 is considered alkaline or basic. Anything below is acidic.
“It’s a super-hydrating water,” says Essentia president and owner Ken Uptain. “When you drink it it hydrates you instantly and you instantly start feeling better.” Its biggest seller has been its 1.5 liter. Essentia just launched the product in six packs of 20-ounce and 1-liter bottles.
Activate, well known for its line of waters that store functional ingredients like vitamins in their caps to be dispensed when the consumer twists the closure and shakes the contents into the liquid, recently launched its own alkalized water. Activate pH+ is purified and alkalized water with electrolytes (without Activate’s signature twist-and-shake dispensing cap).
“It’s a real trend, the alkaline water category is growing at 50 percent,” says Activate COO Reza Mirza. “The alkalized water is going to be focused on the natural channel and focused on spas and [similar venues]. That’s where the consumer wants to drink an alkalized water.”
Consumers have gravitated to Activate’s full range of products, Mirza says, for one major reason: “What’s really connecting us with consumers is the efficacy.”
5. Speaking of water, there will always be still people and sparkling people.
Functional efficacy is one thing, but when it comes to water, the overall drinking experience is key and for some that involves bubbles and for others, not so much. Hint, known for its line that infuses the unsweetened essences of fruits and ingredients like hibiscus into its waters (and past BW Breakout Brand), recognizes that and now offers both. It launched Hint Fizz about a year and a half ago, offering its consumers carbonation with the essences of fruits like strawberry and kiwi, blackberry, watermelon and peach. “What we realized is that there are many consumers who find it hard to drink water,” reveals Hint founder and CEO Kara Goldin. “But they define themselves as either still or sparkling people. So that doesn’t mean they necessarily want any sweeteners in their products, they just want the bubbles. So we followed that request from our consumers and launched Hint Fizz. Today it’s growing very very rapidly and definitely is 50 percent of our overall market.”
6. Consumers are still cuckoo
Ten or so years ago when coconut waters were just starting to trickle onto the health-and-wellness drinks’ scene, few knew they would become such a part of the beverage zeitgeist—at least as far as emerging segments go. And in 2013 even fewer would have guessed there was much more room for innovation with the potassium-rich tropical bounty. But there were plenty of new coconut-based launches that further reinforce that the functional sub-segment has some real legs.
Among the offerings at the show was Thailand-sourced Exotic CocoWater. Brand owner Exotic Food Co. markets four varieties of coconut water, each with a distinct added flavor or functionality: vitamin C, mango, pineapple and lychee. U.S. rep Richard Saltzman says among the brand’s selling points is its glass packaging. “The glass really helps get the taste,” Saltzman explains. “We found that compared to [other packaging types] our product has a much superior taste to it.”
The product’s offered in eight-ounce and 16-ounce sizes.
Some brands established for other health and wellness attributes have added coconut to their product mix. Among those is the aforementioned Alo, whose Coco Exposed line is a blend of water from young coconuts and real aloe vera juice and pulp. Then there’s Bai Brands, which was named a Beverage World Breakout Brand last year for its line of antioxidant infusions. It unveiled its newest addition to the Bai5 line, Malokai Coconut, a 100 percent natural five-calorie drink that boasts 450 mg of electrolytes. “In a market that is flooded with coconut water, this is, we feel, the answer to the true delivery of coconut taste,” says Bai Brands founder and CEO Ben Weiss.
Malokai Coconut will launch as a limited-time, summer seasonal product June 1. “It’s just a great flavor addition to a very robust line up,” Weiss notes. “It fits within a void we saw within our flavor profile. It’s another opportunity for our core consumer to expand their reach within our brand.”
Where Bai is known for its antioxidant infusions, Steaz has made a name for itself over the past decade with its antioxidant-heavy Fair Trade certified green tea-based products and organic, natural energy drinks. Now it, too, has launched a coconut extension to its canned iced tea line. It’s launching a green tea with coconut water product—which brings to 11 the number of flavors in its RTD tea line—in partnership with Whole Foods.
“I think coconut water is a category that’s here to stay; it’s certainly not a fad,” says Steaz co-founder Steven Kessler. “How many players can survive within the category—on one hand, we question it, but each year a new player comes out and winds up exceeding the levels of the former players…What we’ve done is realized that opportunity. Between the nutritional value of green tea and coconut water, which provides us levels of electrolytes and potassium…We’re expanding the consumer’s desire for coconut water in a different delivery system, rather than just straight coconut water.”
7. While consumers are busy drinking the best for their bodies, they should remember to feed their brains.
It’s easy to forget that the brain is part of the health and wellness equation. Brain health and alertness beverages have become a functional segment unto themselves just reminding consumers of that. One brand that’s been fairly successful getting that message out is the alertness beverage Nawgan, designed to sharpen focus and boost concentration. Its key ingredient is Cognizin citicoline, with purported brain benefits. The company points to studies that those who consume 250 mg of Cognizin a day (the same amount in each 11.5 ounce can of Nawgan experience improved performance on a test of attention).
“Cognizin citicoline is the only compound that can improve alertness, focus and concentration without being a stimulant in a healthy system,” says Nawgan co-founder Rob Paul Most recently the St. Louis-based brand expanded to the Northeastern U.S. “This brand just continues to grow,” Paul adds. “We’re very excited bringing out new and improved flavors, and better user experiences for all of our customers.”
Those who missed Expo West will get another chance with the East Coast version, Sept. 26-28, 2013 in Baltimore.