Vitamin enhanced water

These products come with a ‘healthy’ dose of spin.
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01 .Introduction

At first glance, vitamin-enhanced waters might appear to be a healthier alternative to their store-fridge counterparts, but a closer look at the nutritional information reveals they’re really just cordials with a few added vitamins. CHOICE recommends you treat them like any other sugary or artificial drink and enjoy only as an occasional treat.

In 2008, CHOICE awarded a Shonky to Coca Cola Amatil for its range of Glacéau “nutrient-enhanced water beverages”. Despite marketing that asserts the drink’s health benefits, Glacéau VitaminWater contains enough sugar to provide an average woman with about a third of her recommended daily intake.

The shonkyness doesn’t end there. The colour of these drinks, as well as the use of fruits in product names, created the impression that they contain fruit juice, when, in reality some contained none at all. The word “flavour” has since been added to the label to indicate they don’t contain fruit juice, but this does not address our concern about the overall implication that they are healthy drinks.

Stick with real fruit

A bottle of vitamin-enhanced water provides about 5g of sugar and 90kJ per 100mL. Fruit juice contains about 8g of sugar and 150kJ per 100mL, so the enhanced water looks pretty good on a per-100mL basis. But fruit juice – with a recommended serving of 125mL-250mL – usually comes in a 200mL-375mL bottle, whereas enhanced waters come in 500mL and 600mL bottles intended for a single serve.

Some companies produce low-calorie and sugar-free versions of enhanced waters, which solves the sugar concern, but there are better ways to get your nutrients. A small apple provides antioxidants equivalent to about 1500mg of vitamin C – a lot more than the 25mg in a bottle of Spring Valley Smart Water Goji & Wildberry, which claims to contain antioxidants. A medium orange has more vitamin C (86mg) than a whole bottle of Grassroots Acai & Mandarin with ginseng and vitamin C (39.6mg). Fruit also contains fibre and a range of other nutrients not found in enhanced water.

The dawn of a dark industry

The popularity of these drinks has turned nutrient-enhanced water into a booming industry, with Grassroots, NutrientWater, Spring Valley Smart Water, Aldi’s Morning Noon or Night and many others available on the market.

Most subscribe to Glacéau’s marketing tactics, using names, graphics and packaging to convey an impression of healthiness. The NutrientWater Cranberry Grapefruit bottle, for example, says: “Although your GP may not recommend this product as a substitute for your balanced diet, eight hours’ sleep and daily workout, it does contain a formula of essential vitamins and minerals, which is good … after all, who always manages time out for steamed greens, early nights and pre-dawn power walks?”

CHOICE believes this kind of marketing creates the impression that the product can be used as a safety net for a poor lifestyle, while omitting the word “flavour” alongside “cranberry grapefruit” implies the product contains cranberry and grapefruit juice – not cranberry and grapefruit flavours as listed in the ingredients.


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CHOICE sent a letter of complaint to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in 2008 regarding VitaminWater and its mockery of food labelling laws.

Their response was underwhelming: “It is the view of the ACCC that the product labelling does not create a misleading impression to ordinary consumers that the product has any particular health benefits. Rather, the representations amounts to puffery. As such, the ACCC will not be taking any further action in relation to this matter."

The litigation

The US allows enhanced water to carry claims such as “reduces the risk of chronic disease”, “promotes healthy joints” and “supports optimal immune function”. But the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), is currently suing Coca Cola for “deceptive and unsubstantiated claims” in relation to VitaminWater. While America has different labelling laws to Australia some of the complaints made by CSPI are not dissimilar to points we raised with the ACCC.

In Australia, enhanced waters are made according to permissions outlined in Standard 2.6.2 of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. This permits vitamins and minerals to be added to water-based beverages that may be sweetened with sugar, fruit juice and/or artificial sweeteners.

CHOICE opposed these permissions because we believed it would result in misleading promotions – and enhanced waters are a sign we were right.

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