Coconut water just the beginning, plant ‘water’ drinks emerge

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 5th March 2014
Naturally sweet 'water' from maple trees?

The success of coconut water, which surged from zero in 2006 to an almost US$1 billion business in North America and Europe by 2013, is just the first step in a massive trend, according to global nutrition business analysts New Nutrition Business.

According to New Nutrition Business there is an emerging global trend for “healthy, natural, low-calorie waters” taken directly from plants. Extraction and packaging innovations that prolong shelf life have led to products with a “subtly sweet taste” extracted from maple trees and birch trees.

“With the right marketing and distribution strategies, these new waters will be a US$2 billion business by 2025,” said Julian Mellentin, Director of New Nutrition Business.

Like coconut water, maple and birch waters offer benefits that make them good options for health-conscious consumers. New Nutrition Business said the waters are “naturally healthy with a positive nutritional profile”, “naturally sweet” with no need for added sugar, and “can be sustainably sourced with little constraint on volumes”.

Sales of coconut water have been surging for five years — with no products carrying health claims, according to New Nutrition Business — driven by consumers’ desire for drinks that are “natrually functional” and have no added sugar. In fact, according to a report by New Nutrition Business, 12 Key Trends in Food Nutrition and Health 2014, “naturally functional” was the biggest driver in the industry, and the force behind the success of beverages such as coconut water and almond milk.

Maple water

Maple trees are known as the source of maple syrup, but they also yield a beverage much more in line with the preferences of health-conscious consumers: maple water.

Maple water, like coconut water, is “naturally rich in vitamins, minerals and 46 antioxidants” according to New Nutrition Business. Maple water also has an “inherently sweet taste”, with a taste profile that received an overall higher score than coconut water in consumer research. New Nutrition Business said the sugar content (primarily sucrose) was “only 2 to 3 per cent”.

Maple water, or sap, is the raw ingredient of maple syrup, which is traditionally process into syrup because it spoils after just a day. But New Nutrition Business said developments in aseptic packaging from packaging company Tetrapak, combined with processing maple water on the same day it is collected, mean water could now be made commercially available.

A trio of Canadian entrepreneurial brands — Oviva, Seva and Maple 3 — have been developing the market.

New Nutrition Business said maple water had the potential to reach the same market size as coconut water over the next five to seven years, provided maple water brands apply the same strategy as coconut water did, focusing initially on single-serve packs (250ml-330ml) and upscale distribution and pricing.

Birch sap

Birch sap is produced by birch trees every year in early spring and is currently harvested as a health drink in countries such as Japan, Korea, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, according to New Nutrition Business.

The sap is completely clear and “slightly sweet”, containing between 1 per cent and 1.5 per cent sugars. The main naturally occurring sugar in birch sap is fructose.  The product also contains xylitol.

As with maple water, New Nutrition Business said advances in packaging and processing technology have allowed companies to begin bringing birch water to market in its “all-natural, no added sugar” form.

Brands such as Finland’s Nordic Koivu, whose patent-pending technology has allowed it to collect and bottle birch sap without adding any preservatives, and Denmark’s Sealand Birk have been rapidly developing the consumer market.

New Nutrition Business said birch sap had been shown to be “high in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium, manganese, thiamin and calcium”. Uses in tradition and folk medicine include “boosting immunity, fighting fatigue, treating arthritis and joint pain, energy booster, and migraine prevention”.