Saturday, December 1, 2007

kid concoctions

Banning sugary beverages at schools is one way to tackle America's childhood obesity epidemic. This might be another: getting kids to drink a new, low-sugar, vitamin-infused, flavored beverage in a quirky Y-shaped bottle created by superstar industrial designer Yves Béhar.

The certified organic drink, called Y Water, is scheduled to be introduced early next year at Whole Foods Market (WFMI.O). It comes in four varieties, each with a mix of flavors composed of ingredients such as coriander or black carrot juice along with a dash of calcium or zinc.

If you manage to get a finicky kid to take a few swigs and finish the bottle, the packaging can then be re-used as a toy: special connectors allow a child to stick Y Water bottles together to form Lego-like constructions. "It is exotic," says Thomas Arndt, founder of the Los Angeles private startup Y Water, about the beverage-cum-toy, which will cost a hefty $1.69 for a 9-ounce bottle. "But it is unique," he adds. "It enriches the fantasy life of a kid. They start guessing what's in it."

So will parents who are worried about their children's consumption of sugar-laced beverages. This has become a big question: Beverage industry giants like Coca-Cola (KO) and Pepsico (PEP) agreed last year to self-imposed guidelines on the sale of such drinks in schools. As substitutes, beverage and bottled-water companies are launching "healthier" alternatives, aimed at attracting kids or pacifying parents who will buy or sanction the drinks.

Kindergarten Consumers
Some of the new offerings are simply tie-ins with a cartoon, or in the case of Crayola Color Coolerz!, from Advanced H2O, a name-brand crayon. But some beverage companies are going further. Nestlé's Poland Spring devised the rocket-ship-shaped Aquapod, a bulbous, smaller version for kids of its best-selling bottled-water brand. Meanwhile, Honest Kids, from organic bottled-tea company Honest Tea, comes in a portable plastic pouch.

Targeting kids is part of a broader strategy by the beverage industry to tailor drinks to niche consumer segments. "What we are seeing are finely targeted products for a particular need, or a time of the day, or a demographic―and that includes kids, which is an underserved category," says Gary Hemphill, managing director of Beverage Marketing, an industry research and consulting company in New York. As a result, Hemphill adds, "there are fewer one-size-fits-all products" in the beverage market.

Arndt started thinking about a children's beverage two years ago when he couldn't find anything in Los Angeles supermarkets that he wanted his own kids, now ages 9 and 7, to drink. "They didn't want water, and the school had banned soft drinks," recalls Arndt, a former brand manager in Germany for energy drink company Red Bull. His idea was to create a low-calorie, organic beverage that would be a thirst quencher and also have health benefits or functionality―a category known in the industry as value-added beverages―all in a kid-friendly package.

Not exactly the sweet grape concoctions in a juice box kids usually crave. But Arndt, who after working for Red Bull introduced health-drink company Carpe Diem to the U.S., believed that kids would appreciate a more sophisticated taste. When it comes to drinks, Arndt concluded, "kids aren't taken seriously."

kid concoctions


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