The health and wellness boom has spawned the launch of many functional products aimed at consumers seeking a healthier lifestyle, and enhanced waters are claiming a growing share of this market. But, Annette Farr writes, companies are also introducing enhanced waters marketed as offering cosmetic benefits.

A niche category in all countries, except in Japan and the US where the sector was pioneered, enhanced water products - those with added vitamins and minerals (not to be confused with flavoured waters) - were identified at the beginning of the year as rising stars in the soft drinks firmament. Mainstream players had secured a piece of the action: the UK's V Water brand was bought by PepsiCo and Glaceau Vitaminwater, acquired earlier by Coca-Cola, was set for its UK launch.

Since then the UK soft drinks industry has suffered an abysmal summer and endured the economic downturn. The result has been a loss of confidence in Europe and the US and disappointing third-quarter results from the global giants.

Have these factors affected the potential of enhanced bottled waters? Not according to Cameron Davidson, senior brand manager for V Water at Britvic and PepsiCo. "This year has been a challenging year for the enhanced water category as a whole but decline is again being driven by flavoured waters rather than functional water."

According to research analysts Canadean, global European volumes of bottled water with enhancements (minerals and vitamins or added flavours) total just over 1bn litres. This equates to a 1.1% share of all soft drinks categories in West Europe and a 0.6% share in East Europe.

As tiny as the category may be, UK Britvic is confident that functional water remains a significant opportunity in the UK. Davidson says consumers are looking for "new, healthy options on-the-go that taste great - essentially they're looking for a little more than just simple hydration".

He adds: "V Water has performed very well this year, winning national listings in Waitrose and Sainsbury's as well as gaining wider distribution in the convenience and impulse channel. Retailers are also realising the potential of this category."

Coca-Cola Great Britain is similarly upbeat about its enhanced water. Commenting on this year's launch of Glaceau Vitaminwater, a spokesperson says: "It has been a great success. Originally only hitting shelves in London in June, we expanded its roll-out to 11 cities across the UK in September. Just over six months since launch, the brand has established high consumer awareness thanks to its stand out on shelf and a highly successful influencer campaign.

"The brand has also successfully launched in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Mexico in 2008. What we've learnt through past economic downturns is that generally less expensive luxury items like soft drinks have not been as affected. Most of us like to have a little treat in our day and Glaceau Vitaminwater is that bit of luxury that's affordable."

In the US, figures from Datamonitor suggest that the sector has plateaued. "There is continuing interest in enhanced waters, but things have cooled a bit from prior years," says Tom Vierhile, director of Datamonitor's Productscan Online unit.

But, it seems, the current economic climate has not impeded new product development. Worldwide there has been a steady unveiling of new enhanced water drinks.

Only last month the Charlie's brand in New Zealand and Australia launched into vitamin-enhanced waters with Defence, Antioxidant and Multivitamin variants. They are low in sugar and feature only natural ingredients with purified water. Pomegranate, yumberry and mangosteen add flavour to the drinks.

In the US, the American National Beverage Corporation unveiled its EnVitamin Enhanced Water, said to enrich the body with essential nutrients and electroylytes. And in the UK, the Extreme Group introduced is 'Ex' Aqua Vitamin Natural mineral water, a combination of mineral water, vitamins and natural fruit.

Also in November, the Ain Mineral Company of Abu Dhabi introduced an enhanced water line for children aged between four and 13 years across all UAE regions. The drinks contain additional calcium and fluoride. "Early adequate nutrition is essential during the growing years," says Samar Saied Al Badawi, nutritionist for Al Ain Mineral Water Company.

Indeed, children have been identified by Vierhile as an emerging target. Datamonitor's database shows very recent launches to include U2Organic Kinds Nutrient Enhanced Water distributed by Cutting Edge Beverages and Bot Beverages' Bot Fortified Water for Kids. Both products are promoted as being healthy, low in sugar with no artificial flavours, sweeteners or preservatives.

Vierhile also points to bottled waters that promote beauty and skin health benefits as a growing trend. Borba spearheaded the 'cosmeceutical' water drink in October 2007 with the launch across Europe of Skin Balance Water. The formula is a mixture of vitamins, minerals and botanics. The range comprises Replenishing (claimed to boost moisture and keep skin smooth and firm); Clarifying and Firming (to help the skin regenerate its natural support system, remove toxins and improve clarity of the dermis); and Age Defying (to help soften lines).

In Germany, where enhanced waters are often referred to as 'near waters', the Bella Fontane brand has introduced Mango Orangenbluete (Mango Orange Blossom) and Pfirsich Holunderbleute (Peach Elderflower Blossom). Low in sodium and high in calcium, the waters are marketed under the tagline, 'Schoenheit aus der Calciumquelle' (beauty from calcium).

With an increasing ageing population seeking new forms of refreshment, an enhanced water drink could prove attractive. Anti-Ageing Water was launched in the US in August; produced by Japan-based Kunimitsu Kido it claims to be "the world's most functional water". It is said to contain natural products that are exceptionally helpful in hydrating the skin.

All the evidence suggests that consumers are seeking products that provide functionality and health. Global Industry Analysts says it expects the global market for non-alcoholic beverages will remain dominated by more perceivably healthy soft drink options, a criterion that enhanced bottled water more than matches.