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Expo West 2019 Recap Pt. 2: Sparkling Water Innovates, Brain Function Rises

Sparkling Water Brands Continue Innovating

As a low-to-zero calorie alternative to soda, sparkling water brought in more than $2.3 billion in retail sales last year, according to Nielsen All Channel Data. As competition in the category increases, brands are seeking to innovate beyond the tried-and-true formula of adding natural flavors to carbonated water. At Natural Product Expo West 2019, new twists on the category were prevalent on the show floor, from botanical and tea blends to functional ingredients.

New York-based Sound, which produces a line of sparkling teas in 12 oz. glass bottles, launched a new canned line of tea-infused sparkling waters. The line was initially previewed last year at Natural Products Expo East but is now finalized and set to launch in April in New York via a distribution partnership with Dora’s Naturals and will also add airport accounts including JFK and LaGuardia. The company, which is seeking to expand its platform beyond tea, will also focus on direct-to-consumer sales as well as adding national food service and corporate accounts. The line was partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign which wrapped last month with more than $13,000 in pre-sales.

Co-founder Salim Najjar told BevNET at the show that the line is intended to offer consumers a cheaper price point — $1.99 per 12 oz can versus $2.49 for its flagship line. The line will feature Black Tea with Blood Orange + Vanilla and Green Tea with Tangerine + Lemongrass flavors that contain 45 mg of caffeine, as well as two non-caffeinated SKUs Ginger Tea with Grapefruit + Lavender and Hibiscus Tea with Blueberry + Cinnamon.

Najjar said that the decision to launch a tea-infused sparkling water was inspired by a need for transparency in the category, citing a recent lawsuit against LaCroix maker National Beverage Corporation that alleged the brand uses synthetic ingredients.

Several other sparkling water brands showcased botanical infusions at this year’s Expo West. Seasons Sparkling unveiled a rebrand — pivoting from a botanical soda to a “botanical water” — and showcased new packaging featuring commissioned work from artists. Founder and CEO Bobby Chang told BevNET the company the brand was initially positioned as a mixer, but the relaunch removes sugars. The brands flavors include complex flavor profiles like Grapefruit Rose, Lemon Elderflower, Matcha Ginger Turmeric, and Rooibos Lemon. The company intends to primarily sell direct-to-consumer

Petal, another sparkling botanical drink, added Lemongrass Dandelion, Elderberry, and Peach Marigold flavors. The brand is now in four KeHE warehouses and working towards adding more.

Szent, which debuted last year with the unique proposition of selling unflavored water with scented rims around the bottle cap in order to create flavor sensations, sampled a sparkling line that is still in development. The company intends to launch a cola-flavored SKU this summer.

“We’re trying to redefine what it means to be a flavored beverage,” Szent CMO Zac Scribner told BevNET.

Scribner said the brand, which closed a $2.2 million funding round last month, is “planting the flag in California” and is focused on adding West Coast retail accounts, research and development, and educating consumers via sampling and media pushes.

Asarasi produces organic beverages made with unflavored fresh water sourced from maple trees (not to be confused with maple waters made by brands like Drink Simple and Sap!). To accompany its original unflavored product, the company is introducing four new flavors including cherry lime, lime, mango, and lemon. Elsewhere, Sovany, which produces sparkling waters made with organic fruit concentrate, revealed new packaging for its products which include tangerine, raspberry, green apple, and unflavored varieties.

There were, of course, sparkling water brands premiering more traditional flavor innovations as well. Texas-based Waterloo sampled new strawberry and grape flavors for their line of canned drinks. Fellow Texans Big Swig, however, had more eyebrow-raising approaches to its line extensions. Managing partner Sean O’Connor said the company sought to create flavors that fit in well with its primary Texas market and developed products that can pair well with barbecues and the summer heat. New flavors in 16 oz. cans include Party Pickle, Jalapeno Pineapple, and Chile Mango. O’Connor said the unconventional flavors are intended to cement the brand’s “from Texas for Texas” identity.

Finally, did anybody think sparkling water wouldn’t be touched by the rise of CBD? Weller sampled its line of sparkling waters infused with 25 mg of CBD, available in black cherry, tangerine, and watermelon flavors. Drink 420, a U.K.-based brand, also sampled its two SKUs — Wild Berries and Elderflower Lime — featuring 15 mg of CBD.

Brain Function Building Momentum

Brain health and mental function has for years been a niche but growing sector of the beverage industry.The space continued to see more innovation at this year’s Expo West, as both established brands and new entrants to the space showcased their respective new products.

In the MCT oil space, “super coffee” maker Kitu Life unveiled a line of Super Espressos in 6 oz cans. The products contain 40 calories, 5 g of protein, zero sugar, and MCTs. The line is available in original, vanilla, and caramel varieties. As well, butter coffee brand Picnik added new additions to its creamer line, adding a dairy variety with collagen and MCTs and a new Vegan Creamer made from coconut cream and cashew. The creamer line also features new packaging designed by Here Studio. Bulletproof, a trendsetter in the space, added a Caramel coffee flavor to its RTD line.

Vitamin-infused coffee maker VitaCup launched its first foray into RTD products with a line of coffee-based shots. The company, which sells K-Cups and coffee beans, announced a Lightning Shot containing 200 mg of caffeine and B vitamins as well as a version of its MCT-infused Genius blend, which will contain 120 mg of caffeine with turmeric and B vitamins. The 2.5 oz shots will launch this summer with a focus on the food service and convenience channels.

Shots maker Brain Juice, which previously showed its new Active line at Winter Fancy Food Show in January, was also on the floor with its freshly extended product portfolio.

As part of its new oat milk latte line, Pop & Bottle previewed the Double + Nootropics line, which accompanies three other flavors which contain added antioxidants, collagen, and adaptogens respectively.

Launching at the show, startup Brainiac showed a line of drinkable yogurts positioned as “brain food for kids.” The brand makes use of natural ingredients intended to aid mental function, such as Omega-3s DHA and ALA and Choline. The company told BevNET the nutrients are sourced from salmon, broccoli, liver, and eggs and blended with yogurt to create a smooth flavor. The drinkable line includes strawberry, strawberry banana, mixed berry, and cherry vanilla flavors which are available in individual 7 oz. bottles or 4-packs of 4 oz. bottles. The company also makes cups and yogurt sticks.