Q&A: Make way for maple water

by Monica Watrous
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DrinkMaple was founded by a pair of triathletes - Jeff Rose and Kate Weiler - who discovered the drink while competing in Canada.

CONCORD, MASS. — Maple water is making a splash in the functional beverage market as several startup brands tap the tree sap to produce hydration with half the sugar of coconut water, plus vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. One such company is DrinkMaple, founded by a pair of triathletes who discovered the drink while competing in Canada.

“We were both dumbfounded that we as a country are shipping coconuts from across the world for this natural hydration when we had a resource that was right here that we were only utilizing to make maple syrup,” said Kate Weiler, co-founder and chief executive officer of DrinkMaple. “I tried (a Canadian brand of maple water), absolutely loved it, hydrated before my race with it, actually, and came back to the States and couldn’t find it.

“I was really intrigued by the whole concept and started doing research and found there were research studies completed on the nutrients in maple water and maple sap as a hydration drink. So my business partner (Jeff Rose) and I thought, ‘Other people would be as excited as we were about this product, so why don’t we just do it ourselves?’”

Since debuting on shelves last May, DrinkMaple is set double its distribution from 500 to more than 1,000 doors over the coming months, as part of a new deal with Whole Foods Market. The product also is available in independent health food stores, coffee shops, yoga and fitness studios, juice bars, and on-line at Amazon.com and drinkmaple.com.

In addition to distribution gains, DrinkMaple recently added more packaging options to include 12-oz and 1-liter bottles. DrinkMaple contains one ingredient: maple sap harvested from trees on USDA certified family-run farms in Vermont.

In an interview with Food Business News, Ms. Weiler discussed opportunities for her business and the category of maple water.

Food Business News: How are you able to support your recent rapid growth?

Kate Weiler: The production of maple water is really interesting in that you can only do it once a year. The sap only runs in the springtime, when the nights are freezing and the days are warm. That’s when it’s really delivering the nutrients to the tree and bringing it to bloom.

So we produce in a very short window. We produce for the whole year, so we drastically increased our production this year in anticipation of opening a lot more stores and new regions of distribution.

Does maple water lend itself to multiple s.k.u.s?

Ms. Weiler: There is a lot of opportunity for maple water as an ingredient in other beverages as well as line extensions to do flavors. We have not come out with flavors yet. We wanted to make sure we were focused and put out the pure product so people really know what it is, and focus on educating the consumer. But down the line, there is definitely opportunity for more innovation.

DrinkMaple contains one ingredient: maple sap harvested from trees on USDA certified family-run farms in Vermont.

How are you educating consumers about maple water?

Ms. Weiler: Our mentality is really getting out in the community and getting people to try the product. Once people try the product and taste it, they’re hooked.

The barrier is that when people hear “maple water,” they think it’s going to be sugary, oversweet or sticky like a pine sap. We’re doing a lot of store demos and sampling at races and triathlons and yoga festivals. We just did a big Paleo conference. We’re really engaging with the community and getting people to try it and understanding maple water is this really healthy naturally nutritious and low-sugar beverage, and breaking down those conceptions people have.

Are your target consumers athletes like yourself?

Ms. Weiler: The target is not necessarily athletes. People that live a healthy, active lifestyle are drawn to product, but really it’s anyone who wants a natural hydration drink.

How do you use maple water as an ingredient?

Ms. Weiler: Right now it’s used as an ingredient for juices and smoothie bars. Some restaurants are using it in cocktails.

Similar in the sense that coconut water is showing up as an ingredient in other branded products, I see that as a way maple water will be used in the future as well.

A lot of companies are trying to create the next coconut water. How do you make your brand different?

Ms. Weiler: What makes maple water have more staying power and what the consumer is really excited about is this has been around for hundreds of years. Some of the other new products on market are a bit farfetched, or you look at the ingredient label and there are about eight different ingredients.

What’s really exciting to the consumer and almost has that romantic factor is that we’re taking it straight from tree. It’s really a farm-to-bottle experience. Most people are amazed we’re not adding all these different ingredients into it.

For the consumer who is looking for something truly healthy and trying to hydrate with something that’s good for them is looking at that ingredient label and finding something that’s really simple and clean. I think that’s what attracted people to coconut water, that natural, single-ingredient, plant-based hydration.

What’s getting people excited about maple water is that it’s coming domestically. It’s from a resource that’s right here. It’s much lower in sugar, and it has a different taste profile. Many people don’t like the taste of other waters, but a lot of people are loving the taste of maple water.

How would you describe the taste of maple water?

Ms. Weiler: Different maple waters taste different, so I always encourage people who have tried maple water to try ours. I think maple water has a very refreshing and subtle hint of maple. Some people taste different things. It almost has a hint of vanilla — one of polyphenols that’s in vanilla is in maple sap, as well — so some people pick up a hint of vanilla, but it’s very subtle.

What’s next?

Ms. Weiler: We’re ramping up distribution. Within the next month a lot of people who want to get their hands on it will be able to. We’re doing a slow and focused growth. We’re really excited about the new packaging and production run that went so well, that we’re going to be available to a lot more people in the future. That’s the immediate excitement on the horizon.
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