Quenching Kids’ Thirst

By Tamara E. Holmes

Bottled water manufacturers balance health concerns with the “cool factor” to appeal to moms and kids.  
Bottled water has long been a staple among health-conscious adult consumers, but water manufacturers are now targeting the next generation of customers with packaging and branding strategies that focus less on the health attributes and more on the cool factor of drinking water.
In recent months, companies like Nestle Waters, based in Vevey, Switzerland; Cott Corp., in Toronto; and Kids Only Inc., in Westborough, Mass., have all launched lines of bottled water made specifically for kids. Other companies such as Waddajuice, in Westport, Conn., are looking to capture the kids’ market with beverages that are water-based.
Part of the reason for the new push is the desire by water manufacturers to differentiate their brands. “The bottled water market is very saturated,” says Michael Mascha, publisher of FineWaters, an industry newsletter. “It’s a big business, it’s highly competitive and companies need to find an edge.”
Another reason is timing. Concerns about childhood obesity have led to increased scrutiny over what children are eating and drinking. And in May, the issue reached a head.
That’s when the Alliance for a Healthier Generation announced in conjunction with the American Beverage Association and top beverage makers Cadbury Schweppes, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo that only nutritious beverages would be sold to the nation’s public schools.
What healthier beverage is there than water? The key, though, would be convincing kids that it was worth their while… and that’s where packaging comes in.
The cool factor
One of the biggest challenges in marketing water to kids is changing their perceptions that water is boring. Since water companies can’t compete with the sugary taste of carbonated beverages, they, instead, have to sell an image that kids will flock to.
To position his product as desirable, Ron Cohen, president of Kids Only, decided that it didn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel. Instead, he went out and found images that kids already perceived to be cool and licensed them for use on his company’s labels.
Nestle Waters took a different approach to convey coolness. Rather than turn to graphics or licensing, the company created its Aquapod line with a bottle that had an unusual oval shape.
“When kids first look at it, they’re like ‘wow, that’s really cool,’” says Joseph Juliano, senior marketing manager of Innovation for Nestle Waters. The oval-shaped bottle is available across six of the company’s spring water brands, including Deer Park and Ice Mountain, and it features four plastic nubs, which can only be called “feet”, on the bottom.
“We designed a bottle directly for kids,” explains Juliano. “It’s a smaller size—11 ounces—it’s fun, it has a unique shape. It has a flexible material so when they drink it they can squeeze the bottle.”
The label itself resembles those found on conventional brands of water typically targeted to adults, which creates an association that the product is a healthy one.
“If mom sees a product that is good for the children, [she’s] going to buy it,” Juliano says. “The thing with Aquapod is moms like the bottle too.”
Appealing to mom
At the same time, the packaging has to actually inform. The bottles have to let parents know exactly why this product is healthy for their kids.
“All my messaging has to be cute for the kids, but it has to give the proper information for the parents,” says Jordan Kerner, founder of Waddajuice, which has come up with an all-natural fruit juice for kids that is blended with purified water.
The Waddajuice label, with its splashy graphics and detailed wording, uses up most of the bottle’s real estate. Bright colors and animated characters speak to the kids, while images of fruit, droplets of water and nutritional information target parents.
Marketing to kids also presents practical challenges, such as coming up with a bottle structure that kids can handle easily and one that is not prone to spills. When designing his bottles, Kerner says he first looked at options that were already on the market.
“Juice boxes and juice pouches—they’re cheap but they stink,” he says. “Every parent hates them because they spill.”
The Waddajuice bottle tackles that issue head on with a custom cap. “I created a patented technology to have a spill-proof cap which doesn’t need a heat shield underneath,” says Kerner. “My first couple of versions, you had to twist off the cap, pull off the heat seal like on a ketchup or mustard bottle and put the cap back on to drink it. I’ve created a way now, with a silicon valve, where you don’t have to have that heat shield—and it’s 100 percent spill proof.”
Kerner calls attention to the cap’s virtues with the words “spill-proof” figuring prominently on the top of the label. The bottle also has ridges, which make it easier for kids to grip and hold onto it.
Creating lifelong customers
Some manufacturers are going so far as to make their bottles collectible. Kids Only is planning to introduce new label graphics for each of its licensed characters every two to three months.
Not only does the ability to collect bottles create the potential that kids will continually ask for the product, it also addresses another challenge of marketing to kids: appealing to their growing and changing interests.
“Kids get bored. They want variety and they want new things,” says Juliano. He says Nestle Waters is researching ways to change the basic look of the Aquapod bottle to make sure the package design does not get stale, though he declined to give specific details.  
Through it all, one thing manufacturers are all stressing is that kids may be more health-conscious than some adults give them credit for.
“Kids do not want to be overweight,” says Juliano. “They want to be in good shape, and I think this is one tool to help them get there.”
Bottled water manufacturers are banking on the fact that, if they get kids hooked on their brands today, they will retail their loyalties into adulthood. And with so many water brands clamoring for attention, they know they have to give kids that extra incentive to push their parents into making that purchase.
Says Kerner, “That’s been a big help in getting the product pulled off the shelves.”