Major global drinks groups and smaller innovative companies alike have identified the enhanced water category as a sector with strong growth potential. So far, the US has been the prime focus, but more activity is now being seen in the UK. Annette Farr reports.

The bottled water versus tap water debate may wage on, but one thing is certain: you cannot get added vitamins, minerals and nutrients from a municipal supply. Such so-called enhanced waters are experiencing enviable growth, led by innovation in the US.

Indeed, the growth in enhanced waters is identified as a global "megatrend" in the Britvic Soft Drinks Report 2008. Nielsen USA retail measurement statistics show that in the US the market for water with added electroylytes, such as magnesium and potassium which aid hydration, has doubled in size to some US$56m, and that water with added vitamins is growing even faster - up 135% last year to over $386m.

Tom Vierhile, director of Productscan Online in New York, part of the Datamonitor group, believes the growth potential for enhanced waters is "quite good". He adds: "Consumers are seeking variety and want more from the products they purchase. Plain old bottled water is a little long in the tooth, but enhanced waters not only offer some excitement, but also provide water sellers with some potential ways to differentiate their offerings from the crowd and compete on more than just price."

Coca-Cola's purchase last May of Glaceau vitaminwater, a pioneer in the enhanced water category in the US, has proved fortuitous for both companies. Glaceau, the leading brand in the market, gave Coca-Cola an instant foothold in this fast-growing niche, while the brand has benefited from Coca-Cola's considerable distribution and marketing muscle.

According to Vierhile, the acquisition "undoubtedly helps the company's position in enhanced waters and in the process it also helps legitimise the category. Coca-Cola paid a huge amount for Glaceau, so the only way they are going to get this to work is to expand distribution rapidly both in the USA and abroad."

International expansion is underway, with the brand set to launch in the UK in the summer. Cathryn Sleight, marketing director, Coca-Cola GB, says: "We are very excited about giving people in Britain the chance to drink this fantastic and great-tasting product this summer. We believe that Glaceau vitaminwater is a very special brand and will be as popular here, as it has become in the US since it was launched eight years ago."

Six variants of vitaminwater will be seen on UK shelves. If the brand performs well in the UK, it is a fair certainty that it will receive a gradual global roll-out.

In the US, competition has intensified between Coca-Cola and PepsiCo in the enhanced water stakes. PepsiCo's SoBe Lizards Life Water brand is currently running a 'Thrillicious' nationwide poster campaign to coincide with the reformulation of SoBe Life Water, which now comprises Blackberry Grape, Pomegranate Cherry, Orange Tangerine, Strawberry Kiwi and Passionfruit Citrus variants. Each variant is infused with mix of antioxidant vitamins C and E, essential B vitamins and herbal ingredients.

"SoBe Life Water is not only an enhanced water," says Massimo d'Amore, CEO of PepsiCo Americas Beverages. "It is a lifestyle unto itself. We are providing consumers the healthiest, most fun and refreshing products, delivering the incredibly positive benefits of hydration and unmatched brand experiences."
 
There is activity too around PepsiCo's Aquafina brand, with the launch of four reformulated versions of the Aquafina Alive nutrient-enhanced water beverage range, including a new option with 10% of the daily recommended value of fibre.

The range comprises Protect, a calorie-free berry pomegranate water with vitamins E and C; Energize, a no-calorie orange and lime flavoured water with added vitamin B and caffeine; Satisfy, a peach/mango flavour satiety drink with added fibre; and Hydrate, a calorie-free lemon water with electrolytes, sodium and potassium.

According to Ahad Afridi, vice president at Aquafina, "these beverages build on Aquafina's heritage, adding the relevant benefits of nutrients and delicious flavours - delivering the multi-tasking enhanced water consumers seek."

In addition, the Clearly Canadian range of natural enhanced waters (dailyEnergy, dailyVitamin and dailyHydration) has now established a strong presence throughout the US midwest following a recent listing with Casey's General Stores, a large convenience chain with over 1,450 outlets in nine states.

So how are enhanced waters performing this side of the Atlantic? In the UK, Britvic reports that the functional water category, spearheaded by companies such as Vitsmart, Carpe Diem and V Water, grew by 94% in 2007, albeit from a very small base. Furthermore, Britvic says the category looks set to become increasingly important in the UK

This year has already seen some interesting new product developments. For example, the Firefly brand has just introduced a range of spring waters with natural antioxidants (teas and superfuits) called Firefly Waters.

Firefly's founder, Marcus Waley-Cohen, has no doubt about the potential of the category, both in the UK and Europe. "Enhanced water was the fastest growing drinks category in Western Europe between 2000 and 2006, with annual growth of 45%," he says. "In the US, which often sets the trend, enhanced water doubled in 2007 alone. The other big trend is for functional ingredients with particular focus on antioxidants which augurs well for Firefly's new range of antioxidant waters."
 
Elsewhere, fledgling company Works With Water claims to be the only spring water range that delivers clinically proven health benefits across digestive, bowel, bone, heart and skin health. The company has just launched a Beauty variant containing praventin, a bioactive protein rich in lactoferrin which is said to reduce the inflammation of acne, and aloe vera, known for its soothing effects on the skin and digestive system.