Every time I’m at the grocery store, I’m amazed at the amount of different drinks that line the shelves. There are clear plastic bottles containing mysterious liquids in a rainbow of colors, cans with sharp, bright packaging, and energy drinks that I didn’t know existed. People must be buying them—right? In a recent article, Vox dove into the curious category of wellness drinks that tout “functional” properties.
Vox suggests that the fascination with beverages stems from the way we were inundated with marketing during our childhoods. I can’t tell you how many Hi-C Ecto Coolers I plowed down because of the commercials. My parents bought us the soda we wanted because we saw them in ads, and packed them in our lunches. That sort of stuff sticks with us through the years, and it’s certainly made me, in retrospect, susceptible.
Remember Vitaminwater? Vox uses this as an example. Vitaminwater got me hook, line, and sinker, with those labels touting the vitamins they added to each bottle. Every time I bought one, I’d look at the label and see the nutritional info, thinking that since the drink contained less sugar than soda, it was suddenly healthy. Combined with the “vitamins,” it felt like I was suddenly “taking care of myself.” Fuck Gatorade, I’m drinking Vitaminwater.
Per the Vox article, once the mid-2000s came around, brands saw that consumers were dumping soda for options that seemed healthier. This is where a big interest in sparkling water came in—like La Croix, which enjoyed a bump in the mid-2010s. Dairy took a big hit, too, with plant-based alternatives eating into milk sales. Personally, I switched to oat milk for smoothies, because I’m mildly lactose intolerant. (It gets windy over here.)
Another thing: if you’re paying close attention to store shelves, you’ll see the term “probiotic” in the new age refrigerated drink section. We’re in the “gut health” era now, with sales, as Vox discovered, projected to be close to $6 billion in 2024. I’ve also seen hydrogen-infused water, along with scary-looking pitch black mineral water. Then, of course, there’s Liquid Death, but that’s a whole other (aluminum) can of worms.
Then, of course, there are the drinks that are supposed to relax you with different types of herbs I’ve never heard of. One example: I was sent a sample of some CBD lemonade, which is sitting in my fridge right now. My fiancée and I sat around one night sipping on one each before bed, and we couldn’t tell if they’d contributed to our slowly relaxed feeling, or if it was just the day winding down. Part of me really hoped it was the CBD, because I wanted a wellness drink to do something for once.
The “healthier for you” category even extends to hard seltzer. A brand called Vizzy, which contains vitamin C, comes to mind. (I do not recall Vizzy making me feel healthy whatsoever.)
As a food writer, I’m inundated with drink companies’ press releases daily, and it’s helpful to see a feature article that lays out the beverage industry’s long game. If you’ve got a minute, definitely read Vox’s piece about the way big beverage brands move stealthily into our lives. Man. They really have me in their clutches.