“It will take time and a lot of hard work to grow our brand and the category as a whole, but when they try it, people just love it.”
Like fellow maple water brand Vertical Water (based in New York), Boston-based DRINKmaple spends a lot of its time educating people about what maple water isn’t, which mainly involves explaining that it's not ‘watered-down’ maple syrup (which is what you get when you boil maple water to concentrate it).
And while maple water is technically maple tree ‘sap’ (the water comes from the earth, through the roots, and vertically through the trunk and branches, and is constantly replaced), it is not sticky; and it’s not actually very sweet, Weiler told FoodNavigator-USA
It's also lower in sugar and calories than coconut water, and made locally from trees grown in North America, notes Weiler, a former IT sales executive who went back to college and took a Master’s in Science in Nutrition at Northeastern University nutrition before setting up a sports nutrition practice.
We try to get it from the tree to the bottle in less than 36 hours
Becoming a beverage entrepreneur, however, was never part of the game-plan until Weiler and DRINKmaple cofounder Jeff Rose discovered maple water on a trip to Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, to race in a triathlon in August, 2013, fell in love with it, and then found they couldn’t buy it anywhere when they got back to the US.
“We were intrigued, and started thinking why ship coconuts around the world when you’ve got this natural resource right here in your backyard?" says Weiler. "So we started looking into the supply chain and what is involved to create something scalable.”
For a start, there is a very narrow window of opportunity both to collect the maple water (typically between January to April), and to get it bottled before it starts to spoil, she says.
“We try to get it from the tree to the bottle in less than 36 hours.”
We want to be in the right locations
But is maple water intriguing enough to justify the $2.99 price tag? Er, yes, she says. “The flavor of maple water is quite subtle, but a lot of people prefer it to coconut water. What we often hear in sampling is, Oh my gosh, this is so much better than coconut water.
“They also love the fact that it’s a low sugar natural beverage that’s plant based and made from trees grown in America - you get that especially in New England because people have often tried it as a kid and the love the idea of buying a local product.”
Retail buyers, meanwhile, are looking for something new and different, adds Weiler, who launched the flash pasteurized product in a TetraPak in 2014 (it has an 18-month shelf life) in gyms, fitness centers and yoga studios as well as independent retailers, health stores and Whole Foods branches in the New England area plus selected chains further afield.
Right now it’s in around 175 locations. But it’s about quality not quantity, she stresses. “Our goal isn’t to be everywhere but to show high volume through the locations we are in. We want to be in the right locations.”
Not all the maple water brands taste the same
So how do competing maple water brands differentiate themselves? Via their supply chains, processing methods, route to market, or mainly via branding and marketing?
All of these factors are relevant, but taste is also a differentiator, she says. Indeed the taste - and the sugar content - can vary depending on the processing method, when the sap is collected, the weather, and the location of the trees, while nutrient content can also vary depending on the soil from which the maple trees draw their water, she adds.
Fellow maple water brand Vertical Water will be speaking at our Beverage Innovation Summit on Feb 4. Registration is FREE.
Other speakers include:
- Steve Jones: CEO, Fairlife
- Seth Goldman: Co-founder & TeaEO, Honest Tea
- Shaun Roberts: Founder & CE, KonaRed
- Janie Hoffman: Founder & CEO, Mamma Chia
- Bill Moses: Co-founder & CEO, KeVita
- Chris Reed: Founder & CEO, Reed’s
- Pamela Naumes: Senior director of brand engagement, Bolthouse Farms
- Reuben Canada: Founder & CEO, Jin+Ja