Something in the water: the healthy alternatives shaking up the drinks market

As consumers shy away from high-sugar drinks in favour of healthier options, companies have been quick to adapt a staple drink into weird and wonderful formats. Eloise McLennan explores how H2O is getting a mainstream makeover


Water is the fuel of life; an essential part of our existence. In the West where water is readily available by tap or bottle it forms the baseline of the drinks industry. However, in the shadow of glitzy and seductive drink brands with celebrity ambassadors, high-profile marketing campaigns and glamorous packaging, water has struggled to stand out as an exciting choice.

This status-quo took a hit as the topic of additives and sugar in drinks became a leading part of a national health debate. As consumers became increasingly concerned with what was going into their beverages, a gap in the market for brands to create alternative water products, which offer hydration with a revitalised twist. Infused-water concoctions, enhanced all-natural mineral water, purified water enhanced with fat from coconuts and water tapped directly from trees are carving a path for a new water market that may bring the old-faithful back into the mainstream. We take a look at the leading brands changing up the supermarket shelves and making water more than just the ‘safe’ option.

Maple, Birch and Coconut water as a natural drink alternative

Turning to nature to fuel our diet has been a long running tradition of the drinks industry, particularly following the rejection of high-sugar drinks in preference of a healthier lifestyle, and recent trends have seen companies go back  to more natural roots – quite literally in fact – by turning to trees. While coconut water took the world by storm, other varieties such as cactus, artichoke, birch, and maple water began to gain a foothold in the mainstream market. 

“Unless they grew up around maple harvesting areas (North Eastern North America), the idea of drinking tree sap wasn’t understood unless we drew similarities to coconut water,” says CEO of maple water brand SEVA, Denis Normandin. “Now that it has been a few years and the product has been on the market for everyone to try, we found that ‘tree waters’ are finally understood on their own.”

"Tree waters’ are finally understood on their own"

So what exactly is maple water? In a word, sap. It’s sourced by tapping into the clear liquid, which is naturally contained within maple trees.  “100% pure maple water contains over 46 bioactive nutrients, including phytonutrients unique to tree waters,” explains Normandin. “These nutrients, including electrolytes, minerals and antioxidants, help boost immune health, aid in the prevention of degenerative diseases and act as a prebiotic to support digestive health.”

Alternative water choices offer a wide range of options for consumers

Riding the success of Bulletproof coffee, drinks entrepreneur Dave Asprey launched FATwater, a combination of purified water, bulletproof XCT oil, stevia, vitamin E oil, and natural flavours. The mix of fat and water is claimed to help consumers hydrate faster and deliver an energy boost without the high sugar content found in energy drinks.

"The mix of fat and water is claimed to help consumers hydrate faster"

A concoction of water and oil may seem like an unusual choice for a drink, fat having only just made its way off of the nutrition naughty step, but according to Asprey the addition of the bulletproof XCT oil makes the product more hydrating than standard water because the fat allows cells to better absorb the water.

Speaking to TIME magazine Asprey explained: “Drink a glass of water, and some of it will absorb and some of it won’t. But when your body sees that fat, it says, ‘Oh, come on in, this is pure energy.’ It brings the water in with the fat.”

The rise of black and fulvic water

One of the most dramatic water trends is the addition of fulvic minerals. Challenging the concept of water being transparent, black waters, such as blk and Trace, have established an eye-catching alternative to bottle water.

On first glance you might think the dark appearance is cause by the packaging, but the reality is in the water itself. It looks more like cola, or cold coffee, than water, which black water creators' claim is caused by the addition of fulvic acid that contains more than 70 minerals. According to the BLK website, “blk. is the result of fulvic minerals being infused with Canadian spring water. The fulvic minerals that we use to infuse with spring water are black in colour so naturally change the colour of the water.”

"On first glance you might think the dark appearance is cause by the packaging, but the reality is in the water itself"

Whether the trend for alternative water product has the longevity of the standard of-the-earth variety is a muddled topic. Critics have been quick to discount the need for an alternative to a proven source of hydration, while industry experts predict that the market could grow to $2bn by 2025. The rapid expansion of water options indicates that, at least for the foreseeable future, this trend is only going to grow.