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Vitaminwater's Empty Calories Are at the Heart of What's Wrong with the Beverage Industry

Vitaminwater tells its customers to "hydrate responsibly." That means not drinking 125-calorie sugar rushes like ... Vitaminwater.

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To put this into perspective -- a can of Coke contains 140 calories and 39 grams of sugar, so a bottle of Vitaminwater (20 ounces) is almost as toxic as a 12-ounce can of Coke, and watching people drinking Vitaminwater when they are really thirsty suggests that frequently they down the whole bottle -- after all, many think it's only water, which of course is not quite true.

Target Audience

So who is the target audience for Vitaminwater? Coca-Cola claims its target is men and women who are looking for healthier alternatives to high-calorie soft drinks. That's sweet in theory, but clearly now the main target is Generation Y and younger, as the ad campaigns are aiming at teenagers.

With Vitaminwater's stylish vibe and the use of celebrity endorsers like rap artist 50 Cent or American Idol's Carrie Underwood and intense marketing efforts on Facebook and MySpace, the demographic is getting younger.

The newest flavor out on the market is called "Sync" which offers a free MP3 download that can be found under the bottle cap and revealed on myspace.com.

I'd be willing to bet the songs revealed under that cap are probably not music to the ears of men and women who are looking for healthier alternatives to high-calorie soft drinks.

The lighthearted, humorous mumbo-jumbo on the side of each Vitaminwater bottle makes the drink relatable for tweens.

Here's the hype from XXX Blueberry Pomegranate Acai: "C'mon, get your mind out of the gutter. We only named this drink XXX because it has the power of triple antioxidants to help keep you healthy and fight free radicals. So in case you are wondering, this does not cost $1.99/minute or contain explicit adult content or anything considered 'uncensored'. It has not gone wild!!! during spring break, nor will clips of it be passed around the Internet like a certain hotel heiress. And it has never been seen live or nude, but is definitely au naturale."

The attempted message here obviously is that Vitaminwater is not just a beverage, but an experience; not just a product, but a lifestyle. When walking down the street carrying a bottle of Vitaminwater, the drink becomes a symbol of what the kids are about, just as much as the pair of sneakers they are wearing or the kind of music they are listening to.

What Does it All Mean?

Of course Vitaminwater isn't the sole culprit here. As on many beverage fronts, the market competition is fierce. Coke's super-rival, Pepsi, has Sobe and its own hyped version of sugar water (Lifewater), with many of the same marketing and ingredient issues, including plenty of empty calories. Sobe has also just come out with a version of the lower-calorie alternative called "0 Calorie Sobe Lifewater" that has no calories, no sugar and yet (again) is "naturally sweetened."

Gatorade also has a sugar-water product called Propel Fitness Water ... but Gatorade is also owned by Pepsi, so more opportunities in the market.

Head over to Whole Foods, and you'll discover that the company is now pushing Vitaminwater off its shelves, replacing it with its own brand of sugar water, Nutrient Enhanced Water 365, and the ingredients are virtually the same as Vitaminwater.

Make no mistake. The "sugar water masquerading as healthy drink" market is booming. From 2004 through 2006, sales for enhanced waters and sports drinks grew 73 percent, to $1.2 billion in sales.

And with the caffeinated versions like "Energy" and "Rescue," it seems that Vitaminwater is encroaching on the market toes of Red Bull, Monster and other "high-energy" drinks, while simultaneously trying to secure its base in the health market as it lowers the calories with Vitaminwater 10, while Sobe weighs in with 0 Calorie Lifewater.

 
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