After double digit growth in 2006, sales of water-plus (water with flavours or functional benefits) tumbled by 11%, driven primarily by flavoured water, which currently accounts for 99% of the sub-category, and was hit much harder than its plainer cousin by last year's washout summer.
Consumer awareness of health and well-being is also prompting an increasing number of shoppers to turn away from artificial colours, sweeteners and flavours, a trend which is expected to continue shaping the market in the future.
"Consumers are taking a broader and more balanced view of health and wellbeing" says Andrew Richards, sales director, Britvic. "The quest for naturalness has led some to turn back to natural sugar rather than artificial sweeteners."
As a result of this trend, Danone Waters re-introduced the Original variant of Touch of Fruit alongside the existing sugar-free range, while Britvic slashed sugar levels in Robinsons Fruit Shoot, the flavoured water brand for kids.
Richards continues: "As consumers redefine what they see as healthy, it's the more natural products that may gain prominence - and command the strongest pricing."
Despite last summer's disappointing sales figures, the industry is fighting back by introducing more natural products, overhauling packaging and dreaming up increasingly unusual and exotic flavours.
Danone Waters has launched new brand labelling for Touch of Fruit, one of the most recognised brands in flavoured water, still accounting for almost 35% of the segment. The new labelling has much larger fruit graphics to boost on-shelf appeal and drive trial amongst consumers. Silver Spring also unveiled a flash new look at the Convenience Retailing Show in April.
Douglas Lamont, who heads up This Water, the flavoured water range from Innocent, says that the success of smoothies is now enabling flavoured water companies to introduce more unusual combinations. "At This Water we have a great idea of which flavours work and which don't, allowing us to be much more innovative in terms of which to use." The company recently launched a new pomegranate, lychee and blackcurrant variant which is performing well.
However, the big winners in the water-plus category are functional products. Functional waters, which make up the remaining 1% of the water-plus sub category, and offer added benefits such as vitamins, increased sales by 94% in 2007 and look set to become increasingly important as time goes on.
Functional waters are designed to offer a solution to a particular consumer need, such as stress, detox or vitamin boost, and are able to command premium prices. The fact that a growing number of the beverage industry's major players like Coca Cola are expanding their presence in this segment shows just how big it's expected to become.
Coca Cola acquired US soft drinks firm Glaceau and its fortified Vitaminwater range last year, and plans to launch the range in the UK this summer. Six products will hit shops, including Essencewater, Fruitwater, Vitaminenergy and Vitaminwater, all free from artificial sweeteners and colours.
The success of big name brands such as Volvic Revive is enabling smaller players to make inroads to the market. Launched in 2004, UK based V Water has tripled its turnover year on year over the past four years and has since secured a wide range of new listings including Waitrose, Whole Foods Market and Budgens. Another brand hoping to secure more listings is More Than Water, which offers three products:
a zero calorie water to aid sports re-hydration, Body Booster, to help the immune system and metabolism, and Detox to flush out toxins.