Functional Waters: No Bones About It Calcium Will Help

After two years of discontent, functional waters seem to have stabilized, but things were in free fall for awhile. Maybe that’s why they turned to calcium, to build a firmer foundation.

They seem to have figured it out at Coke-owned glaceau. The category leader has unleashed calcium-enhanced SKU’s in both a full-calorie and vitaminwater zero line, underscoring calcium’s contribution to bone health as one of just a few proven functionalities that consumers will quickly understand. For a brand that’s encumbered by a court fight over claims that it’s a healthy drink, the presence of such a well-recognized nutrient could be a nice hedge against any courtroom-induced loss of credibility.

Meanwhile, despite the negative publicity that vitaminwater drew as part of the lawsuit (filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest) glaceau’s brands appear to have finally found a firm floor and started rebuilding the faith that caused Coke to purchase it in the first place. With vitaminwater 10 breaking its fall and vitaminwater zero poised to start the long climb back, functional waters as a category may be on the brink of sorting themselves out.

Part of the new paradigm appears to be that less is more – both the low-calorie vitaminwaters and SoBe Life Water 0 are posting big gains for their parent companies; stevia and stevia-derived sweeteners are helping make the shift easier for them.

But another part of the paradigm is that, along with calcium, other next-generation ingredients are redefining enhancement.

Balance Waters, for example, is using an array of herbal extracts to increase power its products, while proteins are also starting to make their way back into products with less of the metallic taste that might have been present previously.

Meanwhile, early independent pioneers, like Function Drinks, appear to have finally found some direction. Other companies, that entered the category just to be there, like Jones Soda with 24C, have given up the ghost. That leaves – as one can see from the category roundup here – just a few big brands and variety of smaller ones that are trying to establish a true point of difference.

Some are doing so via their delivery system. Riding a proprietary reservoir cap system, Activate has gained a great deal of momentum, and with an infusion of cash from former glaceau investor Tata Beverage Co. intends to have a DSD network extending from Denver to the Pacific Ocean by the end of the year. Others have specific ingredients they are touting: fiber, protein, even the cooling sensation offered by Pure Cool.

It’s enough to make one believe that with a little calcium, there might be some strong growth in the category yet. •