Hans Buysrogge of Soria Naturals, with some of its large range of vegetable, fruit and superfood drinks 

Plant and fruit-based waters and beverages were a growing trend globally during 2017 with many new products and flavours challenging the dominance of coconut waters. The rapidly expanding category includes everything from dairy-free beverage alternatives such as almond, soy and rice, functional and nutritional drinks such as kombucha, berry, chia, coconut, green tea, melon and aloe vera, to tree waters such as birch and maple.

The OWN team registered many plant and fruit-based waters at the shows in 2017, from the BIOFACH in Germany and the Fancy Food in the US to Natural Products Asia in Hong Kong, Expoalimentaria in Peru and Fine Food in Australia. The category offers a low sugar drink alternative claiming hydration and nutritional benefits including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and amino acids.

Kombucha, a drink based on fermented tea, made by adding a culture of bacteria and yeast to a solution of tea and sugar, is seeing a lot of new certified organic drink entrants and is growing at around 30-40 percent in North America, while new plant milk protein drinks are being launched, some with flavours of fruits, nuts and cacao.

The Kombucha Growers International association, based in the US, highlights annual sales figures of US$800 million a year for the kombucha drinks industry, with 50-75 percent growth in the conventional channel and 25-30 percent growth in the natural channel.

A report released by Euromonitor in 2017 on coconut and other plant waters says that in 2016, plant waters grew by 17 percent for a total of US$493.4 million in sales, with the US the number one player in the category by volume. Coconut water has dominated the market for packaged plant and root waters, Euromonitor says. 

One estimate put the global value of plant-based waters at US$2.7 billion in 2016, with sales growth running at 21 percent. 

Global researchers and industry groups say that from 2016 up to June 2017, sales growth is increasing for plant based waters (up to high double digits, global/North America); while dairy-free and organic beverages were up by around 4-6 percent in Asia/Australia, 9 percent in Europe, to 8-11 percent and higher in the USA.

SPINS research from the USA says that water’s top status among consumers looking for healthful hydration has catapulted this category’s sales in recent years.

 Plant waters thrive as consumers seek functional benefits

"This is especially true as water establishes itself as a more healthful and, now, equally flavourful alternative to caloric beverages that contain sugar – an ingredient that’s higher on consumers’ list of concerns lately," said Jill Failla in a SPINS Blog post on August 31.

Flavored sparkling waters have long been a popular choice, but SPINS data shows that plant waters (such as coconut water and tree waters like birch and maple) are gaining ground in both refrigerated (RF) and shelf-stable (SS) sets as consumers look for increased functionality, in addition to flavour and refreshment.

Tom Lindfors of Mahla Forest shows Beata Radloff of Otto Import Export some birch water and berry oat drinks at NOPA Hong Kong 2017

In terms of growth and market share, flavoured sparkling waters are a very popular shopper pick. Sales grew 23.7 percent over last year to an annual market of US$1.3 billion. As a smaller subset of the market, plant waters’ growth proves notable, as well.

Sales of refrigerated and shelf-stable plant waters (including coconut waters) also improved by 4.1 percent, amounting to a combined annual total of US$509.8 million. Growth is especially impressive in SPINS’ RF Coconut & Plant water and SS plant water subcategories at 18.9 percent and 16.7 percent respectively.

Among plant waters, coconut water is the biggest player in the game with over 80 percent of market share. While sales of traditional refrigerated and shelf-stable coconut waters have grown over the past year, blends of coconut water with other beverages (such as coffee, juice, and tea) are on the decline.

Although coconut water leads the pack, SPINS’ Product Library has visibility into several other rising contenders. A few emerging plant waters include aloe, maple, prickly pear/cactus, and other tree waters; together these plant waters tout a 22.1 percent year-over-year sales gain, growing to US$82.1 million in annual sales.

Fresh flavours are also driving innovation in plant waters, just as they have done for sparkling flavoured waters. The top flavour profile is pineapple, which shows up in 8.0 percent of all plant waters. SPINS data shows notable growth for several flavours in plant waters, including grapefruit, ginger, maple, lemon, and berry.

In line with SPIN’s eye on maple water and grapefruit flavour trends, DRINKmaple unveiled a new Grapefruit Maple Water flavour at the 2017 Summer Fancy Food Show. The maple water drinks are also kosher, Non-GMO Project Verified, and organic. SPINSscan Natural and Specialty Gourmet (proprietary), SPINScan Conventional Multi-Outlet (powered by IRI), 52 weeks ending 2017-June-18)

Pennsylvania-based organic beverage brand Steaz is expanding distribution of its line up of organic Cactus Water drinks launched last year, including Cactus Water with Cucumber & Green Tea, Cactus Water with Green Tea, and Cactus Water with Starfruit & Green Tea. Each 12-ounce can contains the same amount of electrolytes as other functional waters, such as coconut water, but has almost half the calories and sugar. The brand makes functional benefit claims on the front of the can, including high antioxidant content and the ability to reduce inflammation.

ALO, known widely for its fruit-flavored aloe drinks, debuted its Aloe Coco aloe vera-infused coconut water at Expo West in 2017. The Non-GMO Project Verified beverage boasts five essential electrolytes and is also available in an Aloe Coco Watermelon variety.

Asarasi offers Sparkling Tree Water with a unique production story. By chance, the brand’s founder Adam Lazar learned that maple producers use only three percent of the sap they collect for syrup and other products, while the remaining 97 percent of pure tree water is discarded. Lazar redirected the would-be wasted water, added light carbonation, and began to market Asarasi as pure, tree-filtered water.

Among the top trends, US research leader on trends in the food industry the Sterling-Rice Group reports that coffee paired with herbs and spices with health properties and new flavours will play an important role. “Say goodbye to café lattes and hello to the flavor and functional benefits that herbs and spices add; think chai-style coffee or coffee layered with flavors of cinnamon, orange zest, and clove.”

And “Moringa is the Thinga!”, the SRG says. “Consumers just can't get enough of the green, which is why we predict that moringa–a superfood derived from the dried leaves of the "tree of life"–will be the "thinga" in 2018 and beyond. With more protein, fiber, calcium, and vitamins than matcha, watch for moringa to become the next matcha or golden milk”.

"Some culinary trends may rise and fall within the same calendar year, yet many of the most relevant trends follow longer arcs, manifesting in connected, yet new, innovations along the way," said culinary director Liz Moskow of the SRG's Culinary Team.