In the 1980s, Aqua Libra made a name for itself as a pioneering flavoured water brand, before fading into obscurity. Its return this year highlights a dramatic change in fortunes for a category which is rapidly establishing itself as a competitive force.

The brand was initially produced to compete with sparkling water brand Perrier in a relatively untapped and unexploited corner of the market. A combination of health credentials and enticing flavours helped it amass a sizeable legion of fans, most notably Princess Diana, but its success was short-lived and it quietly dropped off the market many years later.

Its initial return to UK shelves has been an equally low-key affair. Trialled in pharmacy chain Boots’ stores from late last year, the brand’s performance has encouraged owners Britvic to initiate a full-scale relaunch in the coming months.

Success for Aqua Libra on its return to the market will not come easy, however.

Since its subdued withdrawal ten years ago, global flavoured water consumption has grown by almost 50%. The blend of taste, wellbeing and low prices has helped the category establish a decent share of the overall soft drinks market, attracting the attention of consumers and major brands along the way. Performances in the last few years have established flavoured water as one of the biggest threats to soda and juice volumes.

Flavoured water is booming particularly in the US, where the recent results of many top brands have been nothing short of extraordinary. Even PepsiCo is getting involved this year, which is a major indication of the category’s rising potential.

UK growth has been more subtle, but no less encouraging. Danone Group’s Volvic is as formidable as ever, while Perfectly Clear from Clearly Drinks is an emerging challenger. Britvic even has another flavoured water brand in the form of Drench. With a much sterner lineup to compete with, Aqua Libra certainly has its work cut out.

Positive signs for flavoured water

The timing of its relaunch, however, could not be better. Flavoured water’s recent growth has been impressive, but the rollout of the UK’s sugar tax this month will propel the category to even dizzier heights as health concerns continue to develop. The brand’s new raspberry & apple, grapefruit & pineapple and tangerine flavours will also appeal to experimental taste palates that have grown tired of the usual sodas, juices and still drinks. What’s even better is that one can contains a mere three calories, and the new drink falls well under the sugar tax threshold.

Flavoured water is particularly popular among the younger generation. Aqua Libra is targeting the same demographic with its low calorie count, distinctive flavour range and convenient single-serve packaging, but its long history gives it the potential to draw in older consumers as well. Appealing to multiple age groups has helped to drive energy drinks’ rapid rise in recent years – if flavoured water can do the same then its recent expansion will be dwarfed by future growth.

The return of Aqua Libra effectively brings flavoured water full circle. In many ways the brand was ahead of its time 30 years ago: it created a niche which, whilst reasonably popular, was up against soda’s unyielding supremacy in an era when health concerns were negligible at best. Now it’s back to hop on the bandwagon it first helped to build.

Flavoured water was once a slowly growing fad targeting non-alcoholic drinkers – today it is an entirely different beast, and nothing emphasises this more than the revival of one of the category’s founding players.