It's good to be in the bottled water business. According to Canadean, packaged water sales are expected to drive almost all of the net growth in beverage consumption over the next five years in the US, as water continues to gain at the expense of carbonated soft drinks. Premium water could lead the next wave of growth thanks to a wave of recent new product innovation. 

It's no secret that bottled water has been riding a long-term growth wave as consumers shift from CSDs and other high sugar beverages (like fruit juice) to bottled water. But, as much as a rising tide lifts all boats, some boats are rising higher than others. Premium water – a niche described by some as water that carries a retail price of US$1.50 or more per litre – is experiencing significantly stronger growth than the market overall.

According to Hal Kravitz, CEO of premium bottled water producer AQUAhydrate, sales of so-called 'regular' water in the US grew by 7% in the fourth quarter of 2015. That's impressive, but it's still less than a third of the growth rate of premium water over the same time period. The premium sector accounts for a small slice of the US market; Kravitz puts premium water at 15% of the US market versus an 85% share for 'regular' water.

But, a deeper dive into the premium niche uncovers impressive pockets of growth. According to Kravitz, high pH water accounts for just 4% of premium water's market share, but US sales of high pH water reportedly grew by 57% in the last three months of 2015. 

High pH water, also called alkaline water, may be fast-growing, but it is not without controversy. The health benefits provided by high pH water have been questioned. Water comes out of the tap with a pH of around 7.4; high pH waters push that level to 9 or higher and speak of enhanced wellness, although specifics may be elusive. High pH water is believed to help aid digestion (by offsetting the effect of an acidic diet) while also benefitting muscle recovery. According to AQUAhydrate's Kravitz: "We don't make these claims outright; we know that people just tell us it works." AQUAhydrate also contains high levels of electrolytes, which help the brand compete with sports drinks like Gatorade, which are perceived to have sweetener and calorie issues.

Enhanced post-exercise recovery claims have also proved to be fertile ground for a new generation of oxygenated waters. Formula Four Beverage's Oxigen Water contains an active ingredient called ASO (activated stabilised oxygen) that reportedly helps deliver faster recovery, improved endurance, increased stamina, and greater mental clarity. ASO helps oxygen to remain suspended in water, so it will not escape from the bottle after opening. Oxigen water contains 1,000 parts per million of bio-available oxygen per 20oz bottle, considerably more than the five to 40 parts per million of oxygen in regular bottled water or tap water. Oxigen is also unusual for another reason: It may be the only premium water with specific usage directions.Formula Four recommends that Oxigen be consumed on an empty stomach 30 minutes before or one hour after eating, for maximum effect.

Reliant Recovery Water is also taking aim at athletes and weekend warriors, albeit from a slightly different perspective. Reliant Recovery uses a combination of oxygen and electrolytes to connect with athletes. This combination is claimed to reduce physical stress, pain and inflammation caused by activity, speed muscle recovery after exercise, and decrease fatigue. Packaging implies that drinking two bottles of Reliant Recovery a day over two weeks will make you "feel better".

Another feature that sets Reliant Recovery apart is it is sold chilled, bolstering the brand's "crisp and fresh" taste claim for refreshing flavours like cucumber, mint and peach. This makes Reliant Recovery one of a small, but growing, number of premium waters seeking a home in the chilled dairy case, a location seen as having growing allure. According to Mathis Martines, emerging brands & innovation director at Kroger: "There is an association with refrigerated and fresh. That's [the chilled dairy case] where everyone wants to get their product."

Looking for bottled water in the chilled dairy case could become routine if the current trickle of new functional premium waters turns into a flood. Uncle Matt's Organic Cold Pressed Fruit Water Probiotics blends water with real freshly-squeezed juice. The grapefruit, lemon, and orange flavours of Uncle Matt's also contain real citrus peel, an ingredient rich in hesperidin which is an antioxidant flavonoid reputed to have circulatory health benefits. GanedenBC30 probiotics (1bn CFUs per bottle) are also added to a chilled drink that contains two grams or less of sugar and just ten calories in each 16.9oz bottle. According to Matt McLean, CEO & founder of Uncle Matt's Organic: "We're excited to be the first to infuse water with cold-pressed, high pressure-processed fruit juice and the power of citrus peel. Think 'refreshing spa water' with a probiotic punch."

Elsewhere, premium water is gaining attention from other cold pressed juice sellers. Suja Juice Co launched Suja Pressed Probiotic Waters exclusively in Target stores this February, a line of chilled, fruit-flavoured, enhanced waters "made with nothing but organic fruits, vegetables, and vegan probiotics". Also fortified with GanedenBC30 probiotics, each 14.5oz bottle contains 2bn CFUs. Available flavours like raspberry and ginger lime have just ten calories and one gram of sugar or less. 

Premium water innovation is also picking up outside of the US. No brand may signify premium water more than Evian, making the launch of Evian Fruits & Plants significant. New in France, the Fruits & Plants line blends mineral water with natural fruits and botanicals. Lemon & elderflower, raspberry & verbena, and grape & rose flavours have calorie counts more soft drink-like than water-like; the raspberry flavour has 59 calories per 25cl bottle. In Japan, yoghurt-flavoured water is generating excitement. Suntory Yogurina water from the Southern Alps is transparent, like unflavoured water, but has the surprising tang of yoghurt. The yoghurt flavour comes from sour whey, and the drink delivers more minerals and amino acids than 'regular' bottled water. The flavour also helps position the water as a breakfast beverage, which is virgin territory for bottled water. Kirin Mets Plus Sparkling Water – also from Japan – pushes premium water as a weight maintenance aid. Kirin Mets contains indigestible dextrin to suppress the absorption of sugar in the intestines – a benefit to consumers worried about blood sugar levels and obesity.