The brainchild of serial entrepreneur Lance Collins, who struck CPG gold with brands including CORE (which was sold to Keurig Dr. Pepper for $525m in 2018), NOS, FUZE and Body Armor, ZenWTR is currently available in nearly 5,000 stores including Walmart, Safeway and H.E.B. and is on course to hit another 20-30,000 doors as Collins forges deals with distributors he has worked with over the years to create national coverage.
He told FoodNavigator-USA: “I’ve put $5m into it and then I brought in my partners and have raised another $10m, so that should last us a couple of years.”
‘Ocean diverted’ plastic
Claimed to be the first bottled water in the US packaged in a 100% recycled PET bottle made with certified ocean plastic,* ZenWTR sources post consumer ocean plastic (certified by OceanCycle) through a network of accredited supply partners that is turned into rPET by California-based recycler CarbonLITE (in which Collins is an investor).
*Sometimes referred to as 'ocean diverted’ plastic, this is plastic recovered from within 30 miles of a coastline, or collected from beaches, waterways, and coastal areas.
Bottled in southern California, ZenWTR goes through a reverse osmosis process before being ‘vapor distilled’ [ie. the water is boiled to create steam and then cooled to return it to its liquid state] and UV treated to create “the purest form of water.” Electrolytes are added for taste.
Although boiling water uses energy, Collins claimed that the use of the ocean plastic in the bottles, coupled with the fact that ZenWTR uses locally sourced municipal water as a water source rather than “trucking water half way around the globe like FIJI and Evian,” made it a better choice than some other premium bottled brands.
“In order to produce the purest water available, we chose vapor distillation even though it does require more energy to produce, but that energy is more than offset in the 100% recycled certified ocean plastic we are using for our bottle and that enables us to rescue more than 70M bottles from marine environment in 2020 alone….and we’re just getting started.
“Our mission is to help restore our oceans, and we’re doing that by reusing the vast amount of plastic that already exists, all while committing 1% of sales to charities and organizations working to clean up our oceans.”
While Collins’ ‘perfectly balanced’ CORE bottled water brand made a virtue of the fact that its neutral pH of 7.4 “mirrors your body’s natural pH balance,” ZenWTR is ionized to achieve a much higher, alkaline pH of 9.5.
Collins, who told FoodNavigator-USA in a 2016 interview that some bottled water marketers were “deceiving” and “confusing” consumers by implying that the higher the pH, the better, told us this week that he was simply responding to consumer demand by selling alkaline water.
He explained: “We’re trying to sell product. I was going to do [pH] 7.5 and we’re intending to do a product at 7.5, but 9.5 is a very trendy thing and the retailers want it…”
ZenWTR is not making any health claims, he added: “There may not be any evidence… but some people just drink high pH water because they find that if you have acid reflux or conditions like that, the high pH lowers the acid levels in your stomach."
Does alkaline water provide any benefits?
While the alkaline water category has grown significantly in recent years, many brands in the space are careful not to make specific claims about the benefits of a higher pH, and have instead focused on the fact that adding electrolytes such as potassium and sodium can replace minerals through sweat after vigorous exercise, thus providing ‘superior’ re-hydration vs regular water (eg. Essentia) while others say they add small amounts of electrolytes 'for taste.’
Trader Joe's - for example - famously prevailed in a lawsuit querying the benefits of its alkaline water by insisting that its labels do not state or even imply that there is any discernible benefit to drinking it: “Nowhere are there statements about the superiority of the product over other non-alkaline products."
Right now, the evidence that alkaline water confers a health benefit is "preliminary and nascent, and may be product or brand specific," Anthony Almada, president and CSO at 'nutritional tech' consultancy IMAGINutrition, told FoodNavigator-USA in a 2018 interview: "The evidence is suggestive at best.
"Each of these alkaline waters are chemically different, so you can't just quote studies on other brands [to support your claims]. But there is some evidence that alkaline water might inactive a digestive enzyme called pepsin which is suspected to be part of the problem with acid reflux, while there is also a theory that if you ionize water in a machine you create hydrogen gas, which, if it is retained in the bottle of water, may have effects that are independent of the pH of the water."
A 2012 invitro [ie. not human] study published in the Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology concluded that, "Unlike conventional drinking water, pH 8.8 alkaline water instantly denatures pepsin [an enzyme produced by the stomach that can be damaging if it refluxes into the oesophagus], rendering it permanently inactive. In addition, it has good acid-buffering capacity. Thus, the consumption of alkaline water may have therapeutic benefits for patients with reflux disease."
A 2017 study published in JAMA suggested that a 'wholly dietary approach' combining alkaline water and a 'plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet' could be as effective at treating Laryngopharyngeal reflux as proton pump inhibition, but the study design did not enable researchers to explore whether alkaline water had an effect independent of the diet.
A 2018 study in the American Journal of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Medicine and Surgery also showed that an anti-reflux program combining diet, alkaline water, medications, and behavioral modifications compared favorably with medication and behavioral modification alone for subjects with laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) symptoms - but again, did not isolate whether alkaline water alone conferred benefits.
Health professionals also note that our bodies have developed effective mechanisms to keep our blood within a narrow pH range (between 7.35 and 7.45), regardless of the pH of the food or beverages we consume.