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In 2003, two Americans walked into a bar and came across some Brazilian girls raving about a hometown drink called agua de coco. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. Yet this chance encounter led to Mike Kirban and Ira Liran discovering coconut water, launching it Statewide under the brand name Vita Coco and creating one of the largest drinks companies in the world.
In 2018, the global market for this sickly-sweet, potassium-packed drink topped $2.27bn and that figure is expected to rise to $6.23bn by 2025. Vita Coco remains the largest player in the field with subsidiaries of The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo vying for second place. However, in such a crowded market, niche producers of alternative super-waters are looking to emulate their success.
Here’s a rundown of the top five on our radar:
70% of the Earth’s surface is seawater, so pioneering Spanish brand Refix have decided to bottle and sell it. Their process is to take Atlantic seawater from 70m off the coast of Spain, filter it twice, add four parts spring water to one part seawater and throw in lemon juice and stevia for taste.
Refix’s theory is that their water has the same concentration of mineral salts as the human body, so their drink is effectively replacing the water you lose through sweat and urine, whilst adding no sugars or preservatives. In terms of taste, it tastes exactly as it sounds. Salty. But the results speak for themselves – 43,000 bottles sold in Spain and 50,000 sold in the US in the first year alone. Although, drink in moderation, as a 250ml bottle contains 21% of your daily intake of salt, which might leave you feeling all at sea.
Canadians for centuries have extracted maple water by “tapping” maple trees, a process of boring a hole through the trunk during the midday sun and letting the sugary water run into a pail. The liquid can then be boiled down into maple syrup or purified into a sweet, clear water that has a delicate hint of caramel.
The first settlers of Canada used to harvest this sweet water as they believed in its spiritual properties. Little did they know that the energy burst they felt was because maple water is rich in electrolytes and bioactive nutrients, making it rival coconut water as nature’s energy drink. Yet despite its honeyed aroma, each 330ml bottle contains only seven grams of sugar, less than you’ll find in a banana.
Today, maple water has become a major production, with Canada’s largest producer, Maple 3, spreading its reach through North America, Europe and Asia. QY Research predicts that the global maple water market will reach $2.69bn by 2025, making it one to watch.
Cross the border into the States and you’ll come across the North American sweet birch tree, which together with the silver birch tree provides the next super-water on our list. More bitter than maple water with an aftertaste of cherry, the PR for this organic drink has gone into overdrive on its outlandish health claims.
Producers say birch water can treat everything from liver disease to constipation, from diarrhoea to dandruff. They even say it gets rid of cellulite! Dieticians remain skeptical. Yet this drink is great for the weight-conscious as it contains Xylitol, ‘Mother Nature’s sweetener’, meaning that a 250ml bottle contains only 2.75 grams of sugar. Perhaps that’s why some of the larger carriers like Waitrose, Ocado and Holland & Barrett are displaying it in their drinks cabinets.
First pitched on Shark Tank, America’s version of Dragons’ Den, almond water is the passion project of David and Deborah Meniane, a French couple who invested their life savings in turning a family recipe into an empire. That was in 2011 and over the last eight years, they’ve grown the product into a range of canned flavours, including Original, Coconut, Ginger and Ginger with Peach; expanded to 800 retail outlets and sold out to Hispanica International. And they did all that despite being turned down for investment by the sharks. The drink has a smooth nutty taste, is loaded with antioxidants and Vitamin E, and is currently only available in the UK on Amazon.
Cactus water sounds like a contradiction in terms. A native of the Arizona desert, cacti are known to survive in some of the driest places on Earth. Yet UK-based company True Nopal have mixed prickly pear cactus purée with filtered water to create a bright red drink that tastes unexpectedly of gummy bears.
This left-field drink is a worthy adversary of coconut water, with half the calories, less than half the sugars and fewer carbs. It also contains anti-inflammatory properties that are good for muscle recovery and skincare. For these reasons, True Nopal has earned a spot in some of our largest retailers, including Tesco, Waitrose and M&S.