Sales go into orbit as US drinks to pink balls

David Usborne@dusborne
Tuesday 08 October 1996 23:02

Pardon me while I get the mucus out from under my tonsils. One second. There, that's better. Now I can tell you all about this seriously odd drink I've just tried. It's called Orbitz and it has these little gelatinous globules suspended in it. Funky, is the word - it's retro-cool, Sixties hip, funky.

Bobbing around in there, those cute little dumplings give the bottle the look of a lava-lamp. Well, all right, lest the makers of Orbitz, clearly Canadian, get huffy - the dumplings aren't really mucus. What they are is hydrocolloid gellan gum. My Orbitz was blueberry, melon and strawberry flavour and the balls were pink.

On shelves across the United States and already a back-to-school hit, Orbitz is just the latest of a string of zany concoctions to come out of the North American drinks industry. Another that has attracted some attention lately is Water Joe: ordinary bottled spring water, laced with caffeine.

Whatever happened to tap water, or even just regular tea and coffee come to that? The answer, of course, besides the cut-throat competition between the drinks companies, is the apparently bottomless desire of American consumers for anything new. "Beverage makers are getting desperate," says Al Ries, a New York industry analyst. "They're looking for the next big hit and they feel they need something really crazy". So why not something like Orbitz that you can't even drink through a straw?

Water Joe, now available in 45 US states, was the brainwave of 29-year- old David Marcheschi, who, as a student, wanted a caffeine kick to keep himself going - but not cola nor coffee. His favourite drink was water. Why not caffeinated H20?

And what else did I find in my nearest Madison Avenue deli this morning? Packaged in a miniature, silver milk-churn bottle, I have Purdey's original, a "sparkling herbal and multivitamin fruit juice drink". (Horrible). Next comes Ginseng Up Iced Tea, meaning lemon with ginseng. There is Jones Soda Co, Raspberry Soda - with a monochrome photograph of a pair of cowboy- boot clad feet on a pavement, odd.

Thank goodness I have also found this: Hildon - "an English, natural mineral water of exceptional taste". At the top of the self-consciously refined label there is a little gold coat of arms and the motto - "De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum". It tastes like water.

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