What happened to plain old water?

#WaterTok has been a boon for water-flavoring companies as enthusiasts buy out shelves of sugar-free syrups. But when does a drink stop being water? (Photos: NYTimes)
When Brigette Ramirez and her family drove to Houston for a Taylor Swift concert, she made a very important pit stop. Well, three, actually.

Ramirez, 33, an 11th grade US history teacher, was on the hunt for the sugar-free syrups that her fellow flavored-water enthusiasts had cleaned out from the only TJ Maxx near her home in south Texas.اضافة اعلان

Her plan was to add them to tap water, pour the concoction into a Stanley tumbler, film herself doing it and (hopefully) go viral on TikTok.

“I ended up finding really good syrups there,” she said.

In this latest chapter of the obsession with hydration, the thirsty are zhuzhing up tap water for all to see on TikTok under the banner of #WaterTok. They show off elaborately organized “water bars” stocked with sugar-free syrups, low-calorie powders flavored like Skittles and Nerds candy, and brightly colored tumblers.

Some have become influencers in the process. Just one of these water mixologists’ “recipes” — three squirts of this, a packet of that — has the power to significantly drive sales. Several water flavoring companies said they sold out of products in the past few months, and revenue is booming as a result.

“There was a time where our Stur coconut pineapple was sold out for a few weeks because some people were making a Dole Whip drink with it,” said Neel Premkumar, the founder of Stur, which sells drink mixes that use natural ingredients.

He said that Stur’s revenue has more than doubled in the first four months of this year compared with the last four months of 2022.

Since #WaterTok took off in March, Jordan’s Skinny Mixes has sold out of its bright blue, sugar-free Mermaid syrup, with hints of citrus, pineapple, and coconut, eight times.

The company was founded 14 years ago and saw growth over the course of the pandemic, said Dana Paris, its chief marketing officer. But #WaterTok “helped bolster Jordan’s Skinny Mixes from this secret little brand into more of a household name,” she said. In April, e-commerce sales were up 143 percent compared with last year.

Its website opens with a banner acknowledging the trend: “Ride the WAVE as we (and all of TikTok) get hydrated deliciously!” It also includes an apology when a customer goes to order: “NOTICE: EXPECT SHIPMENT DELAY.”

In a private Skinny Mixes-dedicated Facebook group, enthusiasts trade tips on where to buy the syrups and exchange water recipes.

Meagan Anderson, an over-40 lifestyle influencer who makes #WaterTok videos and lives outside Fort Worth, Texas, said people will go to three stores just to look for flavors.

“Shelves are getting wiped out,” said Anderson, 48.

Sales of Torani’s sugar-free coconut syrup have doubled since March, said Andrea Ramirez, the consumer and customer market insight manager. The company has been around since 1925 and is perhaps most famous for its coffee flavorings.

Last month, Ramirez conducted primary research into the water trend “because it was such a strange phenomenon,” she said. She presented her findings with a PowerPoint titled “Let’s Talk WATERTOK”.

The trend was initially met with mockery across the internet, and critics have dismissed #WaterTok enthusiasts as “hummingbirds,” which several influencers said felt sexist.

Those pushing these syrups and powders often have their own affiliate links for products, and the sponsorship component has also inspired some backlash, said Tiffany Ferguson, the creator of the YouTube show “Internet Analysis,” in which she dives deep into popular online trends.

In the past decade or so, water flavoring offerings have exploded in the US, where Big Soda has dominated the American palate for generations.

These water additive companies frame products — which are often made with artificial sweeteners and flavorings — as a way to help people hit their hydration goals. It is Mary Poppins logic: A spoonful of (sugar-free coconut syrup) makes the (tap water) go down.

#WaterTok is also associated with gastric surgery. Patients are not supposed to drink carbonated beverages after weight-loss surgery, so still flavored drinks can be a hydration tool — especially for patients who previously relied on soda.

The hashtag #WaterTok often nestles up next to #WeightLoss, as influencers lift up hydration as a key tool in their quest to shed pounds. On Monday, the World Health Organization warned against using artificial sweeteners for weight loss, saying that continued consumption could increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and mortality in adults.

And one question remains: Is any of it even water?

“I have some pause with regards to calling this ‘water,’” said Dr Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity medicine physician and scientist at Harvard. “Because it isn’t just water.”

Water, she helpfully defined, is “what you would expect if you were to take a shower or wash your hands.”

“Water is the base,” she said. “But water is the base for soda, too.”

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