Pass the Vitamin Water, Bro

Budweiser beer, Doritos, luxury cars and big-budget movies made their usual rounds during Sunday’s Superbowl, which drew 97.5 million viewers. So it goes with mainstream America. But for retailers there was also an interesting trend lumped in amidst the string of sometimes funny, often strained advertisements: value-added beverages proclaiming they’re ready for the bigtime.

Four spots, to be exact, touted bottled drinks infused with caffeine, vitamins, added flavor — or any combination of these. There was Diet Pepsi Max, which pledged to wake up a nation full of nod-offs. There was also G2, made by PepsiCo’s Gatorade sports drink franchise, positioned as an off the field “low calorie hydrator”. And then there were the flavored waters — one from Pepsi’s Sobe brand (dancing lizards?) and the other from Coke’s Glaceau and its Vitamin Water brand.

Like carbon credits and fad diets, enhanced water and other beverages offer a way to cut the guilt without curbing the habit. The actual health benefits are questionable. Vitamin Water contains almost as much sugar as soda does, even though it doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup. There’s also been debate in the past over whether these beverages release as much vitamin-packed goodness as consumers think they do.

But we’ve covered the rise of this category in the past, and it appears there’s no stopping it. Energy drink sales are growing annually at around 40%; the flavored water industry could reach $800 million in sales by 2009, according to Beverage Marketing; and soda sales are gradually slacking off.

With numbers like these, it’s easy to rationalize $2.6 million for a 30-second spot during the Big Game.