Food Engineering

Food Packaging: Propel claims dominance in enhanced water category

March 25, 2003


Peach and kiwi-strawberry are expanding the flavor choices to six for Propel, Gatorade’s fast-growing entry to the enhanced water category.
PROPEL FITNESS WATER IS THE FIRST “enhanced water” product to break the $100 million sales barrier, and more are likely to follow. Propel, produced by PepsiCo’s Gatorade division, was joined on retail shelves in June by Aquafina Essentials, another Pepsi brand. Coca-Cola’s Dasani division will roll out Nutriwater this year, and pharmaceutical giant Baxter International is ramping up distribution for Pulse, a carbonated water with nutrients and dietary supplements.

Though only a small part of the $6.5 billion U.S. bottled water market, enhanced waters chalked up more than $200 million in high-margin sales last year, according to Jonathan Cronin, vice president of marketing for Clearly Canadian Beverage Corp., and category sales increased 124 percent last year. “It’s certainly captured interest among consumers, and at $1.09 for a 20 oz. bottle, retailers and distributors are saying, ‘This is something I should devote more shelf space to.’”

Propel’s sales almost tripled last year. Peach and kiwi-strawberry flavors join Propel’s four original flavors—berry, lemon, orange and black cherry—this year. The lightly sweetened water is fortified with three B vitamins and vitamins C and E. An 8-oz. serving contains 10 calories.

One of the granddaddy’s of the nascent category is Reebok fitness water introduced two years ago and bottled by Clearly Canadian in a PET hot-fill package.
The product is packaged in PET bottles. Sizes include 700 ml (24 oz.), 500 ml and multipacks. Similar packaging is used by Clearly Canadian’s Reebok fitness water and other enhanced water products, but few brands can match Propel’s marketing muscle. Gatorade credits TV spots featuring giant drops of water that splash to the ground, releasing various athletes in action, for creating awareness and trial.

Enhanced waters typically undergo pasteurization, so bottles that can withstand hot-fill temperatures are needed. Clearly Canadian selected a PET bottle with four horizontal rib panels instead of vacuum panels for better gripping for Reebok. The 24 oz. bottle was joined by a 20 oz. version packaged in four-unit multipacks last May. The bottles are produced by Amcor PET Packaging.

“Propel has done the best job of making their product distinctive, partly by packaging it in a 24 oz. plastic sport bottle instead of a stuffy 20 oz.,” says Cronin. “We’re just getting out of the gate. This segment is going to explode.”

Packaging becomes an active food-safety element with the introduction of Nojax, the first of a new breed of films and other packaging materials coated with bacteria-fighting compounds to reach the market.

Sidebar: Casing helps kill Listeria in ready-to-eat meats

It took six years to gain regulatory approval, but Viskase Corp.’s timing for the commercial rollout of Nojax cellulose casing proved to be impeccable. As USDA was issuing a final directive for Listeria testing for ready-to-eat meats and poultry, Viskase was announcing the FDA’s approval of its packaging material with an antimicrobial agent.

FDA granted GRAS status to Nojax in December, ending a petition process that began soon after patents were issued in 1996. It is the first commercial application of packaging with a bacteriocin to reduce the risk of pathogenic contamination (see Food Engineering, November 2000, page 50). Nojax can be used on the casings of chub meats, sausages and other products, though hot dogs are the initial focus, according to Jeff Sherry, marketing manager at Willowbrook, Ill.-based Viskase.

“We’re just beginning to work on chub meats. Hot dog production is targeted because that is the area of greatest concern,” explains Sherry. “The casing is the carrier, and it serves as a flexible mold during processing and then is stripped away, leaving behind the antimicrobial to protect against contamination during packaging.” He characterizes Nojax as “a drop-in food safety solution,” requiring no additional machinery.

The technology was developed by Rhodia Food, a specialty chemicals company based in Cranbury, N.J. Rhodia is set to announce several other antimicrobial innnovations for fresh and prepared meats, including a topical spray that delivers a 3-4 Log reduction in Listeria monocytogenes on read-to-eat meats, according to Rhodia’s Bill King.