New York (CNN) — Gatorade’s newest beverage doesn’t look or taste like its other neon-bright drinks. In fact, it’s just water.
The PepsiCo-owned brand, best known for its fruit-flavored sports drinks like Fierce Grape or Frost Glacier Cherry, is adding Gatorade Water. It’s a major bet that the brand can tap into the growing “functional water” category (i.e. water that is perceived to have additional health benefits) that’s projected to reach $18 billion in sales in the next two years.
Hitting shelves early next year, Gatorade Water is an electrolyte-infused, unflavored water that’s filtered with a 7-step filtration process, according to the company, and contains alkaline as well an enhanced pH levels. Water is the latest addition to Gatorade’s growing portfolio that extends beyond its flagship recovery drink and into energy beverages, protein powders and capsules. Although the brand is the category leader, Gatorade sales haven’t grown as quickly compared to BodyArmor.
The company’s research shows “about 30 million consumers today are not reaching for enhanced water at all,” according to Michael Del Pozzo, president of Gatorade. “Most cases, it’s because it’s not a brand that they know and trust.”
With the Gatorade branding and its signature orange bolt on the water’s packaging, Del Pozzo believes that 58-year-old brand can bring “credibility” and disrupt the functional water category that has seen rapid growth in recent years because consumers think enhanced water provides specific benefits.
Del Pozzo said that their research discovered that athletes are “seeking premium unflavored water” to drink throughout the day, as well as a water that contains ingredients that are important to them and comes with “perceived health benefits,” including quicker recovery and improving gut health.
Alleged health benefits
Brands like Essentia and SmartWater have benefited from popularity in recent years for boasting alkaline and electrolyte in water. The trend has grown because celebrities and influencers claim it helps with weight loss, clear skin and even fighting cancer.
Specifically, alkaline water is a water that has a higher pH level than tap water. Seven is a neutral pH. The higher the pH level the more alkaline, or basic, it is. The lower the pH level, the more acidic it is. Gatorade Water has pH levels of 7 and higher.
“Tap water has a pH of roughly around 7, and alkaline water is closer to about 8 or 9,” said Malina Malkani, a registered dietician, nutritionist and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Alkaline compounds are salts and metals that, when added to water, make it more basic.”
However, she previously told CNN that “there’s really not a lot of evidence either supporting of the health claims that are made about alkaline water or refuting the claims.”
“It’s one of those fads that people are making all kinds of claims about, you know, ‘It’s a miracle cure, and it’s a curative for so many different things, and it can boost your metabolism and prevent cancer,’ and there’s just a lot we don’t know,” she said.
Dr. Leana Wen, a George Washington University public health professor and CNN medical analyst, said that “there are many claims about the supposed health benefits of electrolyte-infused and alkaline water, but very little scientific evidence.”
“For the vast majority of people who live in areas with drinkable water, normal tap water is the best form of hydration,” she told CNN.
Still, despite the unproven and perhaps dubious health benefits, the functional water category has grown because consumers are “simply interested in prioritizing hydration as part of their everyday health routine,” Howard Telford, head of soft drinks at Euromonitor, told CNN.
Once the “exclusive domain of sports drinks” like Gatorade or Powerade, the category has seen an “explosion of new formats and styles across powder concentrates, tablets and sports nutrition supplements,” Telford said. Expanding into water helps Gatorade “widen the base” of its consumers and expand the brand’s appeal.
Gatorade’s Del Pozzo said that functional water experienced a “big surge” during the height of the pandemic, and it has “maintained that momentum for quite some time.”
Gatorade Water is joining a crowded category. It’s currently dominated by Coca-Cola’s Smartwater, capturing nearly 27% of the US market share, according to Euromonitor data. Other popular brands include Nestle-owned Essentia and two other PepsiCo-owned brands including LIFEWTR and Propel, a flavored water, that the company sees Gatorade Water being “complementary” to.
Part of the marketing challenge ahead of its launch is building and marketing the brand with “credibility so people understand ‘Why would i potentially pay more than i would for a base water?’ and ‘What does it bring in water that I couldn’t get today?,’” he said.
“When we think about water, this is really an opportunity for us to build out this whole other component of our portfolio that our competitors can’t do,” Del Pozzo said.
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