Are the days of Coca-Cola's VitaminWater numbered?

I loved the predecessor of the product now known as VitaminWater, Fruitwater. Made by glacéau, the four flavors were delightfully simple and unsweetened; it was just fruit flavoring and water. Someone had the bright idea to add vitamins to the water, and sweetener came with it, and Coca Cola (KO), which bought the company in 2007, is now banking on the product line as part of the consumer demand for water with extras.

Is the tide turning? Not only are a small segment of consumers beginning to eschew plastic bottles and everything that comes in them, but a growing sentiment among food writers and other influential nutrition pundits is that adding vitamins to beverages (or other foods, for that matter) in pure mineral form really doesn't impact one's health; in fact, those vitamins are typically "excreted," in other words, they pass right through you.

Especially if you're drinking a lot of water.

A recent lawsuit by the The Center for Science in the Public Interest challenged the wording on VitaminWater's bottles; with words like "defense" and "rescue," along with vaguely-stated claims about how the vitamins in them will impact a consumer's health, said the advocacy group, consumers were ignoring the sugar in the beverages, which negatively impacts health. (Steven Mallas points out VitaminWater is healthier than soda and says he'll keep drinking; to be contrary I'd point out that being "healthier than soda" isn't much of a challenge.)

More troubling, potentially, is a bit at the very end of this article in the Wall Street Journal today on the real ingredients of so-called "healthy" foods. Melinda Beck writes, "Government surveys show that most Americans aren't deficient in many of the vitamins supplied in these drinks. If you consume more than you need, the excess gets excreted." In other words: you're getting a negligible boost of energy, defense, focus, balance, endurance, or any of the rest of it, and you're getting a nice sugar buzz from which you'll soon crash. I think we all know this, but are holding that knowledge in wilful ignorance, wrapped up in the pleasant fantasy we're doing something good for ourselves.

Will consumers continue to shell out top dollar for a feel-good product that is only healthy in comparison to Coca-Cola's main product line? For now, it seems blissful ignorance is prevailing, but my prediction is this won't outlast a prolonged economic downturn; or any sort of sensibleness in food media. While VitaminWater is probably about one to two percent of Coca-Cola's revenues (which aren't broken down by brand), the product line represents an enormous investment for the company, and its future prospects are equally huge.

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