In the $13 billion bottled-water business, beverage companies like Nestlé and PepsiCo use all sorts of sophisticated equipment to fortify, blend and infuse ordinary water with everything from vitamins to flavors like crisp apple and acai blueberry pomegranate. But bottled-water entrepreneur Kate Weiler has come up with an easier method: Let a tree do it.
Weiler is the co-founder of Drink Maple, which debuted last year. It is sold in about 1,300 locations in the Northeast, including Whole Foods stores, and is about to enter the Southwest market via Whole Foods. And it's about as natural and artisanal as it gets.
Drink Maple is maple tree sap, the stuff that farmers in New England tap and boil down to make maple syrup. But in its raw form, maple sap is really just ground water that a tree has drunk first. It contains 46 nutrients and has a light, sweet maple taste. And since it comes directly out of maple trees—it undergoes a filtration process prior to sale—Drink Maple is also low-calorie, non-GMO and gluten free. The taps don't harm the trees, and because it takes 40 years for a maple to get big enough to produce the sap, Drink Maple encourages responsible forestry.
"Our drink is created in a tree," Weiler told Adweek. "Different specialty waters are all being manipulated and created in a chemistry beverage lab. This is coming straight from nature."
No doubt, all this will sound good to Maple Water's target consumers: People with healthy lifestyles who tend to show up at yoga festivals and triathlons where, it's no coincidence, Maple Water has been giving away a lot of free samples.
The bigger question is: Does the highly saturated water category really need another brand? "It's a very crowded market, and there are so many different waters out there," Weiler conceded. "But what makes this unique is it's a single ingredient"—meaning nothing is added at the processing plant. And, of course, there's the natural maple flavor.
But maple could also be the brand's liability. "I think there's good and bad in this," said Darin Ezra, CEO of beverage consulting firm Power Brands. "The idea of getting water from a tree is very appealing. I like the tree angle—but not the maple angle. I don't think of 'maple' and 'refreshing' in the same sentence, and the education process will be expensive."
Weiler admits one of her company's challenges will be "getting people to understand that this is not sticky and sweet," but if there's market force working in Maple Water's favor, it's the enormous popularity of water itself. Helped by First Lady Michelle Obama's "Drink Up!" campaign, water consumption is enjoying all-time highs in America. Bottled water sales grew by more than 7 percent last year, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation. Each of us now drinks 34 gallons of bottled water a year.
Plus, as Ezra points out, if consumers went for coconut water, maybe maple's not such a stretch.