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Coconut, maple and other plant waters make waves in quest for new ways to hydrate

This June 9, 2014 photo shows an assortment of trending waters from left to right, Zico pure premium coconut water, Trader Joe's pure coconut water, C2O pure coconut water, Coco Cafe vanilla coconut water cafe latte, O.N.E. coconut water, and Happy Tree maple water in Concord, N.H. Coconut water, maple water and a range of enhanced waters are being touted as a healthier alternative to sugary soda. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

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This June 9, 2014 photo shows an assortment of trending waters from left to right, Zico pure premium coconut water, Trader Joe's pure coconut water, C2O pure coconut water, Coco Cafe vanilla coconut water cafe latte, O.N.E. coconut water, and Happy Tree maple water in Concord, N.H. Coconut water, maple water and a range of enhanced waters are being touted as a healthier alternative to sugary soda. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Coconut water, maple water, even birch and cactus waters... A quick inventory of beverages in the produce section makes it clear — plant waters are rising.

Soda and non-fresh juice sales are flat or slipping slightly, but plant-based products like coconut water — along with other alternative beverages such as kombucha and tea-based drinks — are growing, particularly those sold alongside your fruits and veggies, according to data compiled by market research firm Nielsen.

"The one area of the store where we are just seeing phenomenal growth is the produce department," says Sherry Frey, health and wellness expert for Nielsen.

Introduced several years ago, coconut water has been big for a while. Maple water is a newer entry and is essentially maple sap, the stuff that normally is boiled down to syrup. Brands include Vertical Water and SEVA. And that's not the only tree water on the market. There's also birch water and, on the plant side, cactus, barley and artichoke waters.

Sales of all waters, including the new products, "fitness" and enhanced waters, as well as regular sparkling and still, grew 4 per cent by value and nearly 7 per cent by volume since July 2013.

Coconut water is not yet being tracked specifically, but totals for beverages in the produce department, which is where much coconut water is sold, showed double-digit growth. The value jump for all produce section beverages — which includes smoothies, fresh juices and teas as well as water — was nearly 13 per cent.

Why the sudden thirst? Nutrition expert and registered dietitian Tina Ruggiero sees it as a trend driven by the beverage industry's desire to find the next big thing, as well as consumers' interest in finding natural alternatives to soda. "This natural beverage market just presents a tremendous opportunity," she says. "There is a fight to create the next bestselling natural water."

All of the brands promise unique nutrition benefits, but Ruggiero advises clients to read labels carefully, beware of the hype and watch for calorie content. Chocolate "healthy" waters may not be any better for you than some other sweetened drink.

Plant waters are fine for recreational athletes, i.e. people who exercise less than 90 minutes a day, says Ruggiero. On the other hand, you're also fine with good old tap water — which is much, much cheaper — and maybe a banana and/or some salted pretzels.

Does all this choice in natural beverages make Americans No. 1 in hydration?

Ruggiero laughs. "I don't know if we're the best hydrated," she says, "but we sure as heck spend a lot of money on bottled water and beverages in general."

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Online:

Vertical Water: http://www.verticalwater.com/

SEVA: http://www.eauderableseva.com/en/

Byarozayik: http://www.byarozavik.com/

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Michelle Locke tweets at https://twitter.com/Locke_Michelle

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