The success of coconut water—which surged from zero in 2006 to an almost $1 billion (€750 million) business in North America and Europe by 2013—is just the first step in a massive emerging trend: healthy, natural, low-calorie waters taken directly from plants.
Extraction and packaging innovations that prolong shelf life mean that consumers can now experience the subtly sweet taste of plant water taken directly from maple trees and birch trees. “With the right marketing and distribution strategies, these new waters will be a $2 billion (€1.5 billion) business by 2025,” predicts Julian Mellentin, director of New Nutrition Business.
Like coconut water, maple and birch waters offer benefits that make them perfect options for health-conscious consumers:
- Naturally healthy with a positive nutritional profile
- Naturally sweet – no sugar need be added
- Can be sustainably sourced with little constraint on volumes
With natural benefits like these, plant waters have no need for health claims. Sales of coconut water have been surging for five years—with no products carrying any heath claims—driven by consumers’ desire for drinks that are “naturally functional” and have no added sugar. In fact “naturally functional” is the biggest driver in the industry, according to the New Nutrition Business report 12 Key Trends in Food Nutrition and Health 2014, and is the force behind the success of coconut water and almond milk.
1. 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 that make it a potent healthful beverage. Maple water also has an inherently sweet taste—and overall a taste profile that gets a higher score than coconut water in consumer research, although the sugar content (primarily sucrose) is only 2 percent to 3 percent.
Maple water, or sap, is in fact the raw ingredient of maple syrup, traditionally processed into syrup because the water spoils after just one day. But developments in aseptic packaging via Tetrapak, combined with processing maple water the same day it is collected, mean water can now be made commercially available.
A trio of Canadian entrepreneurial brands—Oviva, Seva and Maple 3—are developing the market.
Maple water has the potential to reach the same market size as coconut water over the next five to seven years—provided that maple water brands apply the same lessons as did coconut water, focusing initially on single-serve packs (250 to 330 ml) and upscale distribution and pricing.
2. Birch sap
Birch sap is produced by birch trees every year in early spring and is harvested as a health drink in countries including Japan, Korea, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.
The sap is completely clear and slightly sweet, containing just 1 percent to 1.5 percent sugars. The main naturally occurring sugar in birch sap is fructose. Birch sap also contains xylitol.
As with maple water, advances in packaging and processing technology now allow companies to bring 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 them to collect and bottle the birch sap without adding any preservatives, and Denmark’s Sealand Birk are rapidly developing the consumer market.
Birch sap is high in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium, manganese, thiamin, and calcium. Uses in traditional and folk medicine include:
• boosting immunity
• fighting fatigue
• supporting joints
• providing energy for sports