Alkaline Water: Small Business Boom or Bubble?
Tap water, spring water, well water, mineral water—regardless of the labels, all of these beverages do the same thing. All waters, all hydrate. Right?
Not if you ask specialized water companies across the country. Following the healthy living boom, purified water companies have appeared on the scene, each touting products that promise consumers longer and healthier lives.
Evamor Products, a subsidiary of Wm. B. Reily & Company based in Covington, La., was one of the first companies to market so-called alkaline water. Damion Michaels, Evamor's director of marketing, says an artesian aquifer in Louisiana supplies the company’s alkaline water. “Our hope is that we have another natural resource that comes out of the ground that revolutionizes the food chain,” he said.
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While companies like Evamor have been selling alkaline water since 2000, new brands are also popping up, encouraged by expanding retail outlets for their products. Molecule, a store boasting “customized water,” opened a month ago in Manhattan’s East Village, joining pHVibe in Southampton, N.Y. and British Columbia-based Santevia.
“Bottled water is a very commoditized business," says John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest. "If it is affordable and people believe there is enough of a benefit, there could be room in the market.”
Back in Louisiana, Evamore pumps water from a centuries-old underground reservoir filled with water with a natural pH of about 8.8. A few filtrations and treatments later, and voila! Alkaline water is ready to ship in Evamor's plastic bottles, sold for $1.25 for 32 oz.
But alkaline water bottling companies need more than cool bottles, chic labels, and a smooth taste to grab the eyes and taste buds of consumers. To compete with decades-old companies like Poland Spring and Evian, companies like Evamor and its ever-growing band of alkaline water competitors must broadcast the science behind their water.
“Consumers today are very savvy—they call B-S on everything,” Michaels said.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is also on board...
A study featured on Evamor’s website concludes, “alkaline water may be a useful, risk-free adjunctive treatment for reflux disease.” Other studies confirm the notion that many foods and drinks alter our body’s pH to be acidic. Consuming alkaline water could counteract the acidity and restore balance to the body.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is also on board with the trend. The special water received a major endorsement when Healthcorps, the celebrity doctor's organization promoting healthy living among America’s youth, named Evamor water its official sponsor.
In New York, the Molecule flagship store offers treated, enhanced, and alkalinized New York City tap water; pHVibe sells alkaline water, alkaline water filters, and alkaline water-based spa treatments and snacks; and Santevia sells alkaline and enhanced water filtrations systems from its website.
Demand for alkaline water is already being met on grocer’s shelves. National food retailers Whole Foods and Wegmans stock Evamor among other brands. Evamor’s Michaels hints that soon, hundreds of green grocers supplied by New York’s Circle KO beverage distributors will also begin selling Evamor.
Molecule founders Adam Ruhf and Alex Venet identify with the healthy living aspect of the anti-acidic water trend, but they also sell water in ways that circumvent what Alex calls a “bottling business [that] is destructive to the planet.”
At Molecule, consumers get a refillable to-go glass of eight-times purified water for $2.30; for 92 cents more (with local taxes added, the price comes out to an even dollar), you get that same water treated to a pH of either 8.8 or 9.8. For a dollar more, you can add one of a variety of minerals, vitamins, or supplements.
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The extras add up, however. It's possible to spend $4.22 at Molecule for a single glass of water.
Molecule offers more economical and environmentally friendly options as well. The store will refill and deliver (by bicycle) a variety of containers within the neighborhood. If demand for customized water grows beyond their East Village orbit, Molecule might need to either discover an entirely green system of mass transport for their products or find a way to establish enough stores to meet demand, the company says. Otherwise, Molecule will have to choose between upholding its green initiative and turning down potential international clients (residents in uptown Manhattan and even a retailer in Brazil are interested patrons, according to Venet).
Other water purveyors are showing there's more than one way to grow a water business. Month-old startup pHVibe in Southampton sprouted from the idea of purified water and blossomed into a business that offers everything from organic snacks and sugar to alkaline water-based soaps and spa treatments. Manager and co-founder Taylor Florio already has big plans for the future; he expects locations to open up across the country within the year.