(FinancialPress) — Driven by healthier living trends to step away from sugary drinks, bottled water is the biggest beverage market segment based on volume in the U.S., with volumes climbing 8.5% in 2016 to eclipse carbonated soft drinks. The market experts at Mintel estimate that dollar sales rose 6.4% in 2016 to $16.5 billion and should continue to hold an impressive growth curve to $23.8 billion by 2021, bolstered in part by sparkling and premium drinks that command a small portion of the overall market compared to convenience/PET (single-serve polyethylene terephthalate) still bottled waters today.
In October, Elizabeth Sisel, a beverage analyst for Mintel, told Beverage Industry that there may be opportunities in functional waters resulting from a heightened focus, noting 83% of consumers seek a nutritional or functional benefit in an ideal bottled water.
According to The Alkaline Water Co. (WTER), “In the fast-growing premium water sector, alkaline water is the tip of the spear,” citing 120% growth in PET packaging in 2015. Lending credence to the statement, Convenient Store News and Petroleum, the leading C-store industry publication, tapped Akaline88®, the flagship brand of WTER, as one of the top 14 bottled waters to watch in 2017.
The corporate growth is underscored by growing consumer confidence in the safety and health benefits of alkaline water, water that typically has a pH level between 8 and 9 due to higher levels of minerals. Normal drinking water has a pH of 7, or neutral.
Over the years, there has been debate regarding the benefits of alkaline water, with some health professionals standing behind a litany of positive health claims, including high-pH water being a powerful antioxidant, slowing aging, preventing chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer and supporting the immune system, skin health, bone health, detoxification, weight loss and more.
Still, skeptics argue that the benefits are largely anecdotal and lack clinical evidence, although few will contest alkaline water as generally being safe. However, there has been research supporting the positive effects of consuming alkaline water, including a study published last year in Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN), titled, “Effect of electrolyzed high-pH alkaline water on blood viscosity in healthy adults.” This study looked at the clinical impact of high-pH water following exercise-induced dehydration in 100 healthy subjects. The researchers concluded that there was a significant difference in whole blood viscosity (a reduction in high sheer viscosity by 6.3% in the high-pH group, nearly doubling the 3.36% in the regular water group) when assessing a high-pH electrolyte water versus an acceptable standard purified water in the recovery phase after hard exercise. Lower viscosity means blood flows more easily and can deliver oxygen more efficiently throughout the body.
A smaller study published in 2010 by JISSN concluded that consumption of mineral-rich alkalizing water was associated with improved acid-base balance (i.e., an alkalization of the blood and urine) and hydration status when consumed under free-living conditions.
Another study published on the National Institutes of Health’s website first published in the July 2012 edition of Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology, titled, “Potential benefits of pH 8.8 alkaline drinking water as an adjunct in the treatment of reflux disease” also supported a meaningful response to drinking alkaline water. The in vitro studies specifically looked at artisanal water with a pH level of 8.8 based upon the contention that normal drinking water, with its pH as high at 7.4, was insufficient in irreversibly inactivating human pepsin, the main culprit in acid reflux. The scientists concluded that the natural bicarbonate in the 8.8-pH water indeed instantly inactivate pepsin, rendering it permanently inactive and that “the consumption of alkaline water may have therapeutic benefits for patients with reflux disease.”
The value of an 8.8 pH and electrolytes in water is particularly important to The Alkaline Water Co. and its “Healthful Hydration” slogan because the Scottsdale, Arizona-based company uses a proprietary electrolysis technology to enhance its water with trace minerals and electrolytes at an 8.8+ pH, hence the brand’s name of Alkaline88. In a savvy move, the company used a trademark to lock up exclusive use to “alkaline” in the water sector, preventing any competitor from using the word in naming its brand.
Consumer adoption has resulted in Alkaline88 becoming the top selling alkaline water in Southern California for the past two years, ranks #16 in the entire bottle water, still/non-carbonated category and is now being on shelves at 31,000 retail locations covering all 50 states, including over half of the nation’s top 75 food retailers and wholesalers. With soft drink sales constantly under pressure, there is good reason that “Big Soda” and investors are looking to functional, premium waters for profits, including Dr. Pepper paying $1.7 billion for Bai Brands and Reignwood Group paying $105 million for half of Voss Water last year, a fact that is not lost on WTER management as it continues to grow its brand in a booming beverage market segment.
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