'Lightly caffeinated': New caffeinated waters offer refreshing afternoon pick-me-up

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Caffeine Sparkling water

Free from added sugar, artificial flavors and with around half the amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee, Ocean Spray Wave – a caffeinated sparkling water with real fruit juice – is the latest drink meeting a trio of consumer demands of refreshment, energy, and health.

Caffeine is in vogue in the beverage category as a stimulant people know and understand – far different to artificial ingredients such as taurine in energy drinks or the demonized sugar in soda. 

The growth of the RTD coffee category illustrates the rise of the mid-afternoon pick-me-up occasion – as does Coca-Cola’s launch of Coca-Cola with Coffee in the US this year – but brands such as Ocean Spray, Nestlé and PepsiCo are eying up the opportunity to bring more refreshing, cleaner caffeinated beverage profiles to market with their recent launches.

Ocean Spray - 'lightly caffeinated'

Wave is Ocean Spray’s first foray into the caffeinated water category: offering a caffeinated sparkling water with real fruit juice. It seeks to address ‘the rising demand for great tasting, lightly caffeinated sparkling beverages that keep people moving through their day’.

One drink contains 50mg of caffeine sourced naturally from black tea. This equates roughly to the amount of a caffeine in a cup of tea – or half that of a cup of coffee – and far below that of an energy drink which can contain up to 250mg per serve.

“We’re seeing consumers seek out healthier options than always grabbing for a can of soda or sugary iced coffee,” ​Kim McAllister, Director of Innovation at Ocean Spray, told this publication. 

“That is a very large market and while we don’t expect everyone to change their habits overnight, we wanted to create a lightly caffeinated option that helps fulfill the same need – but just do it healthier.

"You can imagine a lunch-time or afternoon break when instead of grabbing for a diet soda, a lightly caffeinated, tasty beverage like “Ocean Spray Wave” might be a better option."​ 

Spotting an opportunity, Ocean Spray took less than a year to bring the product to market. The new launch seeks to help the brand connect with younger consumers – particularly millennials - who are looking for healthier options to sustain themselves throughout the day.

Caffeine in beverages

  • 12 oz soft drink (such as cola): 30-40mg
  • 8oz cup of tea: 30-50mg
  • 8oz cup of coffee: 80-100mg
  • 8oz energy drink: 40-250mg
  • The FDA recommends caffeine intake​ should not surpass 400mg a day: although notes a wide variation in how sensitive people are to caffeine and how fast they can metabolize it.

“There is always a rigorous approach to developing a well-designed product and concept," ​continued McAllister.

"We landed on 50mg to make sure we were communicating a lightly caffeinated offering vs competing with heavier hitting energy drinks – there’s a clear difference in need states there.

"Additionally, this embraced our agile approach to innovation going from idea to on-shelf in under 12months time (in what has been a challenging year for many) – it’s been quite a ride for the full team behind the project.”

Launching exclusively at Walmart in the US this month, Ocean Spray Wave has zero added sugar and is free from artificial flavors, preservatives and sweeteners. 

It is available in four flavors: strawberry and lemon; mango and passionfruit; mandarin and blackberry; and cranberry and pineapple.

The suggested retail price is $4.98 for an 8 pack.

PepsiCo bubly: 'an extremely clean label'

Last month PepsiCo launched bubly bounce: a sparkling water with a ‘kick of caffeine’. It is the first extension for PepsiCo’s home-grown brand, which launched in 2018 and is one of the fastest-growing brands in the sparkling water category.

It is presented as a pick-me-up: “providing hydration with a little caffeine, the perfect refreshment to get you through the afternoon or you know, just tackle Mondays”.

A 12oz can contains 35mg of caffeine – like Ocean Spray’s wave, being more akin to a cup of tea than coffee – for that kick of caffeine rather than a full-on caffeinated beverage.

Zach Harris, vice president, water portfolio at PepsiCo Beverages North America, says that consumers want the caffeine boost without the calories, sweeteners and other ingredients often paired with caffeine.

“Consumers are increasingly looking to their water beyond hydration. We know they are looking for more, and we know that outside of flavor and taste, which are the most important drivers, function is next.

"And caffeine is actually a top functional driver of what consumers are looking for. They are looking for more permissible forms of caffeine as they look for healthier lifestyle.”​​ 

bubly caffeinated

The sparkling water is free from sweeteners, artificial flavors and comes in at 0 calories: “it’s an extremely clean label – honestly, just carbonated water, natural flavor and caffeine.”

Poland Spring Energy

poland spring

Nestlé Waters North America, meanwhile, is targeting the ‘mid-day slump’ with Poland Spring Sparkling Energy Water Beverage: an extension of the Poland Spring water brand. The beverage hit shelves in March last year: made with spring water, agave for a touch of sweetness, a splash of lemon juice, caffeine from green tea extract, magnesium and zinc, and natural flavors.

“Our recipe not only tastes great, it also provides the caffeine and electrolytes many consumers are looking for and provides a good source of magnesium and zinc,” ​says the brand.

“The beverage is inspired by nature and starts with 100% Natural Spring Water from Maine to give consumers a low-calorie, plant-derived boost of energy to help them get over a mid-day slump, all while helping to keep them hydrated.”

The drink contains 75mg of caffeine per 11.5 oz can: equivalent to a typical 6 oz cup of coffee.

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