Coconut water, maple water, even birch and cactus waters … A quick inventory of beverages in the produce section makes it clear — plant waters are rising.
Soda and non-fresh juice sales are flat or slipping slightly, but plant-based products like coconut water — along with other alternative beverages such as kombucha and tea-based drinks — are growing, particularly those sold alongside your fruits and veggies, according to data compiled by market research firm Nielsen.
“The one area of the store where we are just seeing phenomenal growth is the produce department,” says Sherry Frey, health and wellness expert for Nielsen.
Introduced several years ago, coconut water has been big for a while. Maple water is a newer entry and is essentially maple sap, the stuff that normally is boiled down to syrup. Brands include Vertical Water and SEVA. And that’s not the only tree water on the market. There’s also birch water and, on the plant side, cactus, barley and artichoke waters.
Sales of all waters, including the new products, “fitness” and enhanced waters, as well as regular sparkling and still, grew 4 percent by value and nearly 7 percent by volume since July 2013.
Coconut water is not yet being tracked specifically, but totals for beverages in the produce department, which is where much coconut water is sold, showed double-digit growth. The value jump for all produce section beverages — which includes smoothies, fresh juices and teas as well as water — was nearly 13 percent.
Why the sudden thirst? Nutrition expert and registered dietitian Tina Ruggiero sees it as a trend driven by the beverage industry’s desire to find the next big thing, as well as consumers’ interest in finding natural alternatives to soda. “This natural beverage market just presents a tremendous opportunity,” she says. “There is a fight to create the next best-selling natural water.”
All of the brands promise unique nutrition benefits, but Ruggiero advises clients to read labels carefully, beware of the hype and watch for calorie content. Chocolate “healthy” waters may not be any better for you than some other sweetened drink.
Plant waters are fine for recreational athletes, i.e. people who exercise less than 90 minutes a day, says Ruggiero. On the other hand, you’re also fine with good old tap water — which is much, much cheaper — and maybe a banana and/or some salted pretzels.
Does all this choice in natural beverages make Americans No. 1 in hydration?
Ruggiero laughs. “I don’t know if we’re the best hydrated,” she says, “but we sure as heck spend a lot of money on bottled water and beverages in general.”