'Vitamin waters' debut in Phoenix, nation's bottled water capital

Maureen West
The Arizona Republic
May 29, 2002 06:05:00

You know you're getting older when your favorite drink comes from a company that makes IV fluids.

It's no joke. Baxter International, a health care company that supplies intravenous nutrients to hospitals, is betting that aging baby boomers will buy bottled water laced with vitamins and other nutrients.

The Chicago company's fruit-flavored, lightly sweetened bottled waters, some of which are lightly carbonated, were launched in Phoenix and Chicago last week.

If it catches on, Baxter hopes to have its product, called Pulse, in 15 markets by year's end. Pulse has separate vitamin drinks for men and women and one for heart health. They sell for $1.79 to $1.99 for a 16.9-ounce bottle.

Vitamin drinks are appearing on supermarket and drugstore shelves alongside a growing collection of beverages with healthy additives.

"Vitamin waters are the trend of the year for the beverage world," said Laurie Russo of New York City, managing editor of Beverage Aisle, a trade publication for the industry. "Seven or eight big companies, and several smaller ones, are putting out new products."

They are trying to capitalize on the success of the bottled water boom, once limited to health food stores but now well-entrenched from grocery store to theater snack bar.

And they're coming to Arizona to try to quench our insatiable thirst: We drink more bottles of water per capita than consumers in any other state. Arizona has potential to be a popular test site for boomer products. The state's midlife population grew 52 percent from 1990 to 2000, much higher than the national average.

Unlike re-hydration drinks like Gatorade or energy drinks, the new products claim some nutritional benefits.

Glaceau Vitaminwater, whose label claims it packs vitamins from A to zinc, was one of the first on the market. Long Life beverages, which usually makes tea, is making a vitamin-fortified water called Enhance. TalkingRain Beverages debuted its VitaRain vitamin drink this spring in the western United States.

The beverage company AriZona has a whole line geared to helping people combat ailments from high stress to memory problems.

O Premium Watersof Mesa will introduce three new bottled waters this summer to help people diet, to relieve joint pain and to cleanse the body of free radicals.

"Boomers are turning away from the colas of their youth," said Rick Bordwell of Co-Sales, a Phoenix food broker. Bordwell, who is in his 40s, recently kicked a six-soda-a-day habit. He said Coke and Pepsi are expected to have their own vitamin drinks soon.

Pulse may be the only beverage consciously targeting baby boomers, those 36 to 56 years old. They are today's biggest-spending consumers. Other beverage makers are trying to capture consumers at a younger age, hoping to influence their lifetime buying habits.

In the last several years, everything from mountain spring waters to flavored fizzy waters have risen like geysers, threatening the position of traditional soft drinks.

Russo and others predict there will be other vitamin waters on the market soon to take advantage of the fact that boomers want to stay youthful and healthy, despite their lifestyles of hurried meals and stress. Sales of nutritional supplements grew from under $3 billion per year in 1980 to more than $12 billion in 1990.

"Aging boomers are looking for ways they can improve their nutrition, but they must be simple and convenient," said Karen King, head of marketing for Pulse.

Dr. Arline McDonald, who helped Baxter develop Pulse, cautions that vitamin drinks are meant to supplement a diet already rich in fruits and vegetables. They aren't a substitute for vitamin tablets, she said.

The doses of vitamins are small enough that chances of overdosing are unlikely, McDonald said. Still, she recommends people drink only a couple bottles a day.

The real health benefit of drinking the vitamin beverages is that it means consumers aren't drinking soda with caffeine or coffee, said Jeffrey Hampl, an assistant professor of community nutrition at Arizona State University.

"It's hard to stay hydrated in Arizona, especially in the summer," Hampl said. "Anything that adds to people's intake of water is good, and these drinks have the bonus of having nutrients."

Reach the writer at maureen.west@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8167.