A Word About Waters
While the big plant-based-beverage story is in dairy alternatives, plant-based water brands—likely encouraged by the runaway success of coconut water—are gaining more attention and distribution. Treo Brands, for instance, based in New York and founded by the son of one of Snapple’s co-founders, is working to make a name for birch water in the United States. Its Organic Birch Water Infusions launched at 2016’s Natural Products Expo East and were the first fruit-infused birch waters in the U.S. market. They are currently sold online and in New York City retailers.
Another tree water brand, Happy Tree, which markets “the leading maple-water product line in the U.S.” according to its press materials, enjoyed an expansion this past summer into about 400 new retail locations nationwide, including some Kroger divisions, Giant Eagle in the Midwest, and Market Basket in New England. The brand is also available at Whole Foods Market, The Fresh Market, Gelson’s, Amazon.com, and additional household-name natural-product grocers.
Verday Chlorophyll Water, which debuted at Natural Products Expo West in 2016, originally launched in three flavors—watermelon, cucumber, and lemongrass and ginger—and is growing. Verday added a coconut flavor to its product line this past July; the brand is available at natural and specialty stores in New York.
And finally, H2rOse, a unique rosewater-and-saffron beverage launched in early 2015 and based in Southern California, is now sold nationwide thanks to a distribution partnership with KeHE announced last summer. The brand’s line of four flavors is available at select VONS, Albertson’s, Pavilions, and Whole Foods locations, as well as 7-Eleven Hawaii and others.
Come One, Come All…to the Plant-Based-Beverage Market
Simply put, plant-based beverages, in their various forms, are not going away anytime soon. Regarding her 2016 podcast on plant-based products in general, Euromonitor’s Hope Lee says the trend toward plants and away from animal products is “continuing and going strong.” She adds that there’s money available for the taking for those wishing to market plant-based beverages in particular: “From our observation of investors’ interests and movements,” she says, “there is lots of funding around to invest in the growth of these beverages. Young start-ups and big companies alike are coming to nurture the category.”
“Yes,” PBFA’s Michele Simon agrees, “there’s room for everybody” in plant-based beverages, particularly in the non-dairy alternatives. And, once brands in this space “get traction,” she says, “they are going to grow.”
Sidebar: When Is a Milk Not a Milk?
As most players in the non-dairy alternative-beverage world know, a bill was introduced this past January in the 115th Congress seeking to “require enforcement against misbranded milk alternatives” and reserve the terms milk, yogurt, and cheese specifically for cow’s-milk products only. Sponsored by Senator Tammy Baldwin from the dairy-producing-powerhouse state of Wisconsin, bill S. 130, known as “Dairy Pride,” is understandably unpopular among plant-based beverage brands and those who represent them.
“We don’t expect Congress to take up this bill anytime soon,” explains Michele Simon, executive director, Plant-Based Foods Association, whose members include a number of non-dairy beverage brands, “but we’re taking it seriously nonetheless. We are monitoring it closely, and we’ve hired a lobbying firm in D.C. We are developing a strategy now for making sure this bill doesn’t go anywhere.”
This particular Congress does, admittedly, have a significant number of seemingly more pressing issues to address, including those involving national security and potential ethics violations allegedly committed by the Executive branch. However, since its introduction in January, S. 130 has attracted two additional sponsors (bipartisan support from Idaho and Wisconsin) and has been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
Though the bill’s passage into law appears far from certain at this point, the effect on the plant-based-food and -beverage communities would be “significant,” Simon says. “It would not allow these companies to use words that they are currently using, like milk, cheese, and yogurt, even though they are using those words in a way that is clearly signifying to consumers that they’re not dairy; that is, in fact, why customers are seeking them out—because they’re not dairy,” she adds. “We really think companies deserve the right to use words that consumers understand, and consumers deserve the right to be communicated to in a way that they understand.
“There really is no question dairy is suffering,” Simon continues, “but there are many more complex reasons why that is happening that have more to do with the economics of the industry than with the explosion of plant-based beverages on the market.”