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Consumers of the latest drink fad to hit New Zealand, “enhanced” water, may find themselves more confused than enthralled as four companies gun for a market stranglehold with near identical marketing, packaging and even content.
Beverages giant Glaceau originated the concept back in 1996 with its Vitamin Water range, and after screaming to prominence in hip-hop videos (including endorsement and company shareholding by rapper 50 Cent), award ceremonies and appearances in the hands of Hollywood starlets its success has now reached $US500 million in US sales annually.
The product appeared in US-based marketing and media bible Advertising Age in its list of “10 products that have rocked the world in the last decade”, alongside Google, Blackberry and Viagra.
With soft drink sales flattening and the trend toward health products booming worldwide, Coca Cola picked up the brand in 2007 for $US4.1 billion.
The main competitor, Nutrient Water, was brought back to Australia by expats who saw what Glaceau was doing in the US, and the two companies are now involved in a sales war for the thirsts of Australia’s hip youth.
Customer confusion has flowed over just how identical the two products are, right down to flavouring (even the more obscure - such as dragonfruit), packaging (including irreverent witticisms on the label) and even website similarities.
Both products target the youth-premium segment of the market – focusing on cafes and major music events rather than service stations and supermarkets.
Rather more interestingly, neither product is particularly healthy, boasting around 6-7 teaspoons of sugar in each bottle.
Nutrient Water launched in New Zealand first in February 2008, prompting Coke to rush its product to market here late last year alongside imitators Frucor’s Supplement Water and most recently Charlies’ Vitamin Water.
Coca Cola maintains it was always the plan to launch in New Zealand; its hand wasn’t forced, a spokeswoman told NBR.
“It was always part of the global plan for to launch in New Zealand. Our underarm buddies across the ditch snuck in ahead of us, but we had so many Kiwis returning from New York, London and Sydney seeking out their favourite Vitamin Water that we were pretty much compelled to press the go button in the last half of 2008,” she said.
Coca Cola Amatil has only begun to physically produce Glaceau Vitamin Water at its Mt Wellington plant this week, having previously imported the product from Sydney.
Despite giant Glaceau billboards popping up around Auckland and Wellington recently, Glaceau’s Ryland Wood says the company won’t be pushing the brand too hard, even as rivals push their products much more aggressively.
"Imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Designer handbags such as Gucci, Chloe and Louis Vuitton have experienced the same "copy cat" versions entering the market, but people always prefer the original. Glaceau Vitamin Water is the New York original,” he said.