Coca-Cola’s New Fruitwater Contains No Fruit, But Will Anyone Care?

As soda sales dip, Coke hopes Fruitwater will pick up slack.

Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

You may be celebrating the fact that soda consumption has been fizzling out, but don’t expect the beverage industry to walk away from you (or your wallet) so easily.

Yesterday, soda giant Coca-Cola confirmed it’s launching a new line called Fruitwater. Just don’t look for any real fruit in the dazzling, bubbly drinks. There isn’t any. But it will contain the artificial sweetener Splenda, also known as sucralose, and will come in zippy flavors like black raspberry, watermelon punch, strawberry kiwi and more. The new beverage line, launching April 1, will fall under Coke’s Glaceau unit, which produces Vitaminwater and Smartwater.

“Such an ‘unsoda,’ fizzy and sweetened but packaged like bottled water, could lure people who are looking for an alternative to sugary carbonated drinks,” writes Candice Choi for the Associated Press.

In the midst of our nation’s obesity epidemic, beverage companies are hoping low- and zero-calorie soda alternatives will be the next robust market. Choi notes that the company’s Vitaminwater sales were up four percent, while Smartwater was up 25 percent.

But it hasn’t all been calm waters for Coca-Cola. Despite Vitaminwater’s nutritious-sounding name, the Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a class-action lawsuit in 2009, claiming the product used deceptive health claims in marketing the drink. Coca-Cola’s defense countered that “no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking Vitaminwater was a healthy beverage or was composed only of vitamins and water because the sweet taste of Vitaminwater puts consumers on notice that the product contains sugar.”

For fruitless Fruitwater, an emerging environmental concern may cause the most waves.

Scientists at the University of North Carolina Wilmington Marine and Atmospheric Chemistry Research Laboratory (MACRL) wondered just where all that sucralose we Americans are guzzling ends up. It turns out, that only ten percent of the sweetener is retained in our bodies. The other 90 percent seems to get flushed away.

“After identifying significant levels of sucralose in the North Carolina’s Cape Fear River, the UNC Wilmington team conducted research cruises and sampled the waters of the Gulf Stream off the coasts of North Carolina and Florida. All of the samples revealed the presence of sucralose, which indicated that the artificial sweetener endures the wastewater treatment processes designed to dissolve foreign chemicals,” says the university’s website.

“If sucralose is not eliminated through wastewater treatment and makes its way to the Gulf Stream, then theoretically, it will travel where the Gulf Stream goes,” says UNCW Professor Robert Kieber.

The sweetener has been identified as a “contaminant of emerging concern” by the Environmental Protection Agency. Although we don’t yet know the ramifications of sucralose in rivers or ocean water, scientists are concerned about long-term impacts on fish and other marine life, and say monitoring is essential.

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