Kraft MiO: Environmentally Friendly Water Enhancer or Pretty Chemical Colors?

It's an "era of personalization," and eager to "cash in on consumers' desire to customize," Kraft announced Wednesday (Feb. 23) the March introduction of a new flavored water enhancer, MiO (Italian for "mine").

Like other water enhancers -- think Crystal Light -- this one is meant to be mixed into water for "exciting" and personal flavors without extra calories. Unlike some other water enhancers, MiO is liquid, and is meant to give you the startling flexibility of being able to choose how much you add to your water. One drop? A baker's dozen?

Says Liza Laibe, Kraft beverages senior brand research and development manager, "Consumers tell us they can't believe nobody has thought of this before."Can't believe it, perhaps, because it isn't true. Capella Flavors for Water have been around for six years, according to the USA Today, and are made with natural ingredients, no artificial sweeteners or flavors, no colors, no gluten (if this was a concern). They're marketed in about the same way as Kraft is clearly intending to market MiO; "With Capella's Flavor Drops for Water, YOU have full control over flavoring your favorite water! Flavored bottled waters have a "fixed" flavor level, with NO flexibility for flavor adjustment. By using Capella Flavor Drops, the "flavor" level is up to you!"

Of course, Kraft will have the advantage of both its enormous marketing budget and best-of-breed professionals, and, we hope, fewer extraneous quotation marks and exclamation points.

What Kraft also has is color. Lots of it, and artificial, too boot. While this may detract from the desirability of the product to people like me, Kraft clearly believes it is a selling point for its target consumer. The rather striking product photos show the drops billowing out in all their colored glory into a glass of water.

Even though this is a product without an iconic package to display as you're drinking it (think, Coke, VitaminWater, Jones Soda), Kraft is clearly in love with the look of the brilliant food coloring as it enters the water. The product's Facebook page is stocked with profile pics of orange and purple MiO drops swirling into water. A YouTube video is pretty much entirely glamor shots of gloriously swirling red drops. This is the signal of your personality, then: the hue and intensity of your water glass.

In some ways, this product is sensible for consumers. It's depicted swirling its way into a glass of water (think: tap water, far cheaper and environmentally conscious than bottled water); at $3.99 for a bottle, for about 24 servings, the per-drink cost is less expensive than most every other beverage on the market, with the exception of Kool-Aid and instant coffee. In other ways, it's not so much; surely, if you do want your water flavored, you could find a better and less chemical-laden way than these little bottles of "enhancement." I love to play around with flavored syrups, using the lemon and orange peels, bits of ginger and vanilla bean, and other leftovers from cooking; I simmer for a bit on the stove with some honey, refrigerate, and bingo! Nearly free, and certainly chemical-free, flavorings.

But my way is not everyone's way, and as it is the product is somewhere in the middle. Surely not the thing to be adopted by your typical frugal simplicity maven. Perhaps quite a lot better than your typical conspicuous consumer with her cases of VitaminWater or Izze soda.

MiO is interestingly targeted as a way to make your beverages more personal; when it's truly rather a heavily-branded, corporate product (apparently the idea for the product came from one of the Kraft employees' brainstorming sessions known as "innovation day." While a nice success for that employee, nothing says "impersonal" like a product of a corporate celebration of innovation).

A Kraft spokesperson wasn't immediately available to comment on this story.

If I had to give this product a rating, I'd give it a B- for its superior price-per-serving and zero calories, but also for its whole-hearted lack of commitment to pure, natural flavors and ingredients. If you can get the Facebook app to work, you can request a free sample of the product; it will be available in stores in March.

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