How VitaminWater XXX Uses its Ingredient List to Market Health

Ever enterprising beverage marketers will persuade normally rational people to buy colored sugar water for personal consumption, convincing them that said liquid is gloriously rich in health benefits and in some cases also uber-hip.

Vitamin Water XXX is a classic example. Named for its “triple antioxidants” formula of acai, blueberry, and pomegranate flavors, the xxx signage has additional connotations.

Never mind that this “water” contains no juice,

it has the power of triple antioxidants to help keep you healthy and fight free radicals…and it has never been seen live or nude, but it is definitely au naturel.

Oh, by the way:

Contains less than 1% juice.

Unfortunately for consumers who ignore this marketing drivel, the marketing efforts continue into the last bastion of FDA regulated information – the nutrition facts panel and the ingredient list – hoping to gain a more and more sympathy points for a products nobody really needs.

This is what the ingredient list should read:

water, sugar, colors, needless vitamins & minerals

Here is the actual ingredient list:

Reverse Osmosis Water, Cane Sugar, Crystalline Fructose, Citric Acid, Vegetable Juice (Color), Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Natural Flavor, Berry and Fruit Extracts (Acai, Blueberry, Pomegranate and Apple), Magnesium Mate (Electrolyte), Calcium Lactate (Electrolyte), Monopotassium Phosphate (Electrolyte), Niacin (B3), Pantothenic Acid (B5), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (B6), Cyanocobalamin (B12)

Note how the ingredient names are aimed to get you hyped about the chic and vitality of the product.

It’s not just any water being provided to you – it’s “reverse osmosis” water, whatever that means. Probably better than regular water, right?

Next up – the sugar. Not just any sugar – it’s “cane” sugar. Duh. Sugar comes from beets or sugar cane. Someone must have decided that cane sugar sounds more sophisticated or healthy. Baloney.

Crystalline Fructose also sounds cool. Admit it. But it’s simply another form of sugar, derived from corn. Kind of like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) on steroids, as it is 98% fructose.

In other interesting product features, the deep reddish color comes not from the XXX blend, but from vegetable juice (most likely beets). Oh well, at least it’s not artificial coloring…

And if you think the XXX berry scent and flavor is from the triumvirate acai, blueberry, and pomegranate, please note that they appear AFTER the “Natural Flavor” in the ingredient list. Rest assured that a laboratory has perfected the right combination of natural chemicals to excite your olfactory sensors and taste glands. It’s probably not the berry blend.

The list ends with a cacophony of vitamins and electrolytes that our bodies get enough of from other sources. So we’re back to the basics – water, sugar, colors.

To its credit, VWXXX has got half the amount of sugar per cup as Coke does.  But a single serve bottle contains 8 teaspoons of needless, useless sugar, at 125 calories.

Sorry to ruin yet another marketing narrative.

What to do at the supermarket:

Get your anti-oxidants from real fruit, not sugar water. Skip the supermarket beverage aisle and stick with tap water. With the money saved you’ll be able to afford all the tasty healthy fruits you desire.

Get Fooducated: RSS Subscription or Email Subscription

Get Fooducated

  • http://www.betterschoolfood.org Dr. Susan Rubin

    I like to send my students on a treasure hunt, encouraging them to find the most outrageous health claims. Vitamin Water is often a winner. English teachers can use this label to help distinguish nouns from adjectives. Kids should know nouns from adjectives when reading labels.
    That way they won’t get suckered in by “cane” or “crystalline”.

    This product is a great example of the power of language. These critical thinking skills need to be taught in school.

    Vitamin Water sold to Coca Cola for a cool $4 BILLION. I had the opportunity to meet the founder of Vitamin Water a number of years back, just before the sale to Coke. The dude was quite the showman!

  • Jason

    Though not the best drink to reach for, it’s comparatively better than most other drinks on the shelf – no HFCS, less total sugars, no artificial colors, no artificial flavors (though “natural flavors” is misleading), contains berry extracts and vitamins. Reverse osmosis is seen as the best way to filter water.

    I wouldn’t endorse this product, but there are MANY worse choices out there.

  • bill

    And it’s the tastiest Vitamin Water.

  • http://www.betterschoolfood.org Dr. Susan Rubin

    Jason & bill:
    PT Barnum once said there is a sucker born every minute.
    You guys and the rest of the fools drinking Vitamin Water seem to fit that bill!
    Its not water, it’s not “vitamins” its snake oil.
    No way is it in anyway healthy. Not for you, not for the planet!

  • Jason

    Dr. Susan Rubin:

    I’m not saying it’s healthy or that I buy into it’s health claims. Certainly the benefits from the fruit extracts and vitamins are trivial since they are in such minute quantities that any health claims are dubious at best. It’s merely gussied-up water (marketed for much higher profit margins, of course).

    It’s certainly not something I would buy or drink as I avoid almost all drinks with added sweeteners. My point was that there are many worse options sitting on the shelves (sodas, energy drinks, flavored coffee drinks, etc.). I say, save your extra coin from this fancy flavored water and get regular bottled water. If you need some extra flavor squeeze some lemon or lime juice into it.

  • http://www.betterschoolfood.org Dr. Susan Rubin

    Jason,
    if you took a look at a bigger picture and considered the real cost of these products, you might come to a different conclusion. Looking beyond personal health and considering the environmental impact of plastic bottled
    beverages (including water) you would find that there are more factors to consider besides calories and health claims.

    The underwater oil gusher in the gulf right now should be a wake up call for all of us to re-consider our addiction to cheap fossil fuels. Those plastic bottles are made from petroleum! Only a small % are actually recycled. The “crystalline fructose” is essentialy the same as HFCS which also creates extensive environmental damage.

    As the Fooducate folks often say, drink good old tap water (filter it if you like) and invest in a reuseable container.

  • http://alifelesssweet.blogspot.com/ cathy

    Fructose is a hot button for me (surprise, surprise). I see it in so many “all natural” and organic products – sometimes even touting “No High Fructose Corn Syrup!” Um, hello, in this country, fructose is almost always just concentrated HFCS!

  • http://www.livingitupcornfree.com kc

    The notion that this is a better option than soft drinks is exactly what the label is trying to sell. I find this product worse than soft drinks because it does tout itself as healthy – no one ever mistook a soft drink for healthy. This puts me in mind of the Nestle Pure Life campaign trying to convince parents that their children needed “added minerals for flavor” in their water for optimum health. The “added minerals” are derived from GMO corn making it just another plastic bottle full of corn and water, but parents are buying it (which is evidenced by the fact that you can hardly find bottled water without the minerals). We are reduced to buying distilled water for traveling or for our back-up water supply now because we are allergic to corn. Isn’t that a real problem for anyone else? The fact that all our bottled water now contains GMO corn is disturbing to me since it was already in all packaged products but now is making its way into the meat, produce and water. Consumers have to be very knowledgeable and highly motivated to avoid GMO corn in today’s society, even eating a whole foods diet and avoiding processed foods is not good enough. If we truly are what we eat, Americans will soon be plump little ears of genetically modified corn.

  • Josephine Imparato

    your right. damnit i use to love that shit

  • http://theladyexpounds.wordpress.com Liz Alexander

    Well, at least it isn’t carbonated.  XD  No, but seriously, if it’s no worse than soda in the sugar department, then I’m actually doing well with this drink since it has no caffeine and isn’t carbonated, which is a HUGE step-up for me.

    And the fact that it *does* have some nutrients added (even if it isn’t the au naturale that is so popular these days) STILL makes it better than soda IMHO.

    It tastes good, it’s worlds better for me than soda, and those are really only my two requirements at the moment.  (Sad that it isn’t like juice, but oh well; maybe a more nutritious Gatorade?  lol)

  • John

    I stopped drinking gatorade per my doctors request (ringing ears) and started drinking VW. I had been drinking this daily for several years. I have been having 4-7 bowel movement each day. I blamed it on meat, wheat and many other things. I lost weight and had a bad attitude about life because my day was base around the toilet. I recently ran out of the VW and did not buy more. I notice that my bowel movements had gotten better within a couple of day. Since then I have quit drinking them. I noticed that Sprite also caused the same problem. Coca Cola admits it is selling a emotional feeling, not a beverage.

  • murbly

    While Vitamin Water is a very unhealthy drink choice, reverse osmosis water is free if fluoride. It’s not just any kind of water. Fluoride is very damaging to the brain when ingested.