Traditional enhanced waters continue to show growth. Mintel notes that sales of packaged water are projected to reach $24.4 billion by 2023, driven by increases from all water segments, especially the fast-growing sparkling segment.
Add in the buzz surrounding the cannabis market, and the stage is set for a new beverage dynamic. The emergence of waters infused with cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) comes at a fortuitous time, as sales of carbonated soft drinks and alcoholic beverages sink and the bottled, sparkling and functional water categories continue to grow.
BDS Analytics predicts that total cannabinoid beverages will hit $1 billion by 2022, including THC and CBD products in the regulated dispensary channel, as well as non-THC cannabinoid beverages within traditional retail (food, drug, mass, convenience, etc.).
In traditional retail, as reported by the newly formed partnership of IRI and BDS Analytics, CBD-infused bottled water accounted for $3.44 million in dollar sales for the 52 weeks ending November 24, 2019.
CBD Products' Dollar Sales
While oil-based cannabinoids and water are chemically incompatible, emulsification technologies help overcome the dissonance, resulting in a convenient, recognizable product, says Blake Nyman, head of brand, Day One Sparkling Water, Natural Hemp Co., Los Angeles. “It’s always a challenge to convince a consumer to do something outside their regular habits, like using a tincture dropper to put oil under their tongue, which can have a clinical feel. If you can include CBD in products consumers are already comfortable with, then it reduces the barrier to entry and will allow more people to try CBD.”
Water’s neutral base allows product manufacturers to put cannabinoids at center stage, says James Tonkin, founder, Healthy Brand Builders, Scottsdale, AZ, and advisory board member for Integrated CBD and Ojai Energetics. “It’s also a good way to highlight the individual ingredient. You don’t have to have a bunch of other things in the product to compete with the CBD.”
While water may be conducive for showcasing a particular cannabinoid, many product manufacturers add flavors to offer a more-pleasant user experience.
“CBD is known to impart a bitter aftertaste to food and beverage products,” Nyman says. “Through trials and iterations, we eventually identified the optimal ingredient mix of CBD, natural juices and flavors to deliver what we think is a superior-tasting product.”
Day One Sparkling Water introduced the brand with a Lemon variety in August 2019, and Grapefruit and Lime flavors launched in February 2020. “We’ve been testing and tasting these flavors and are super excited about how they turned out,” says Nyman.
There’s also the possibility of using sweetening agents, ranging from sugar to low- or no-calorie options such as allulose, stevia, monk fruit and sugar alcohols including erythritol, maltitol and xylitol. However, consumers are becoming increasingly wary of sugar alcohols, Tonkin says. “They’re very high-intensity, but they’re pretty expensive.” Also, a lot of consumers are afraid of unfamiliar ingredients, he says.
Last year, Manzanita Naturals, San Francisco, opted to remove erythritol from its THC-infused sparkling waters following feedback from customers. “As a company, we aim to be flexible and appeal to consumer tastes, and they challenged us to edit our recipe and remove sugar substitutes,” says Andrew Amend, CEO. “We listened, and now all of our flavors have everything our customers want—10 mg of THC, zero calories, no cannabis taste, and, where applicable, a strong citrus flavor—without added sweeteners.”
That seems to be par for the course among infused water manufacturers, Nyman notes. “There’s been a focus on a low-calorie, non-sweetened approach that aligns with the broader consumer preference for healthier food and beverages.”
Successful infused waters hinge on proper emulsification and dispersion of cannabinoid content. Nano-emulsifications are visually transparent and offer long-term stability. They’re also absorbed quickly by the body.
Day One uses nano-emulsified, water-soluble, broad-spectrum CBD in its sparkling waters, Nyman says. “By using broad-spectrum, our product contains other micro cannabinoids that work together to enhance the benefits more than what each cannabinoid can deliver on its own.”
And, as with traditional beverages, BPA-free aluminum cans are a popular option for cannabis-infused waters. “Aluminum is a significantly more-sustainable alternative to plastics and is a tried-and-true material for preserving beverage products due to its barrier properties against, oxygen, light, moisture, and other contaminants,” Nyman says.
Owing to the popularity of traditional sparkling waters, it’s no surprise that many infused water brands take the effervescent route.
Weller’s CBD-infused sparkling water launched in April 2019. Available in Watermelon, Black Cherry and Tangerine flavors, each 12-oz. can contains 25 mg broad-spectrum hemp extract.
In a similar vein, Daytrip’s CBD-infused sparkling waters are available in four flavors: Tangerine, Lemon Lime, Cherry, and Pineapple Coconut. Each 12-oz. can contains 10 mg of CBD.
Left Hand Brewing and WAAYB Organics launched Present, an organic CBD-infused sparkling water brand. Each 16-oz. can contains 20 mg full-spectrum CBD distillate from hemp grown at WAAYB’s USDA-certified organic family farm in Colorado. It’s available in Natural, Blood Orange, and Lemon Lime flavors.
Some alkaline waters, which have a higher pH level than water’s standard level of 7, have also been formulated with CBD. Right On Brands, Inc. offers four varieties of Endo Alkaline Water: Pure, Cucumber, Lemon, and Watermelon. Made with 9.5 pH water, each 16.9-oz. bottle contains 10 mg of CBD.
Last year in Canada, Truss Beverage Co., in partnership with Flow Glow, Inc., maker of Flow Alkaline Spring Water, launched two varieties of CBD-infused spring water: Goji+Grapefruit and Raspberry+Lemon.
Other infused water manufacturers are incorporating botanicals. Along with hemp extract, sparkling water brand Recess incorporates ginseng and L-theanine into its beverages. Available flavors include Blackberry Chai, Peach Ginger, and Pomegranate Hibiscus.
DRAM Apothecary offers sparkling CBD waters formulated with adaptogens, plants and herbs believed to support the body in adapting to stress. Each is made with 25 mg of CBD, and available varieties include Lemongrass, Gingergrass, and Sweetgrass. The brand also developed a variety called Beauty Bubbles, which includes coenzyme Q10, red raspberry leaf, moringa leaf, and rose water, among other skin-supporting ingredients.
In September 2019, DRAM Apothecary forged a distribution partnership with Coors Distribution Co.—a clear sign of the changing times in today’s beverage industry.