Move over, powders.
The flavored drink-mix section in grocery stores has gotten more crowded, as tiny plastic bottles of concentrated flavor drops are taking up space once occupied by pouches and packets.
You’ve seen them, from the makers of drink mixes like Kool-Aid, Hawaiian Punch and Crystal Light. Orange and Grape Crush have drink mixes, and even water maker Dasani has a line. Kraft’s MiO brand was among the first to start the trend, back in 2011.
They come in a variety of flavors, from black cherry and lemonade to sweet tea. Manufacturers also have started to add vitamins, caffeine and electrolytes to the mix, allowing them to market health claims along with flavor.
The flavor aids are customizable (add as many drops as you want to water), portable and convenient. They make plain water taste sweet and fruity. But they’re also full of artificial colors and flavors, and some aren’t necessarily sugar-free. So, are they good for you?
Amber Massey, a registered dietitian at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth, says the products typically provide little to no nutritional value, but they also aren’t bad for you if used in moderation.
“Usually the limits for making these types of things harmful are more than the average person would consume in a day,” she said. “So in regards to food coloring and artificial sweeteners, drinking one or two of these a day is nothing that should cause concern.”
In fact, Massey says, the zero-calorie flavor enhancers can be a healthy substitute for otherwise sugar-filled and caloric drink options.
“If you’re trying to lose weight and you usually drink soda or juice, this can be a healthy alternative,” she said. “It’s also good for those with diabetes or trying to control blood sugar who want a flavored drink.”
Popularity of drink flavorings
Jenny Zelger, a beverage industry analyst at market research firm Mintel, says that in a bottled-water report survey of 2,000 people, 32 percent of respondents had used liquid beverage mixes. Fifty-nine percent of men ages 18 to 34 and 40 percent of women in the same age group reported having used the water enhancers.
Of those who reported using the products and were drinking more or the same amount of water, 40 percent said they were doing so to help control calorie intake, Zelger says.
Massey says increasing water consumption — even if it’s flavored — is great for curbing cravings and staying hydrated.
“Drinking a lot of water can offset hunger,” she says. “People often mistake thirst with hunger and don’t realize or recognize that, so more often they reach for a snack.”
Zelger says the number of people trying and using the liquid beverage mixers is impressive, especially as they only hit the market hard with the launch of MiO two years ago.
“I think it taps into the desire for customization and personalization,” she says.
The drops allow the user to easily control strength and potency, and also let consumers mix flavors without opening and storing powder packs.
As with any new food product, users should check the nutrition labels. The drops typically contain some sodium and carbohydrates.
Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst for NPD Group, a consumer marketing research firm, says the staying power of the trend is yet to be known.
“To determine if something is beyond a fad is dictated by two things. Just being new isn’t enough,” he said. “It has to save people time, or it has to save people money.”
The answers to these two things aren’t concrete. The drops are certainly convenient — the plastic bottles are small and portable, and it takes less time to add a drop to a glass of water than it would to brew a cup of tea or coffee. Prices range from $3 to about $6, but one package can flavor 18 to 32 glasses of water. While it’s an additional cost over plain water, it’s still cheaper per beverage than a typical cup of coffee, soda or energy drink.