Why birch water is the next Scottish food and drink success story

With over 200 million birch trees and rising demand for natural and healthy drinks, the birch water market seems a market made for Scotland.

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, when a country gives you over 91,000 hectares of birch woodland, you perhaps start to think about the birch water market.

The sap of the birch tree has been enjoyed for centuries, particularly in the Nordics and the Baltics. So, what’s the potential of this tree water product in Scotland, and what can a canny Scottish food and drink entrepreneur expect from the sector?

Wanted: Natural healthier drinks

Many shoppers are making the shift away from artificially sweetened drinks and embracing a broader selection of functional and wellness drinks.

Global sales of plant-based waters increased by 21% in 2016, reaching a value of $2.7 billion US dollars. According to Zenith Global, the market is expected to double to $5.4 billion US dollars by 2020. The tree water category itself is set to grow to $2 billion US dollars by 2020 also, according to market research undertaken by New Nutrition Business.

Coconut water currently dominates this market, accounting for 86% of sales in value in 2016, but the sector is diversifying to accommodate the growing demand for maple water, cactus water and birch tree water. 

An introduction to birch water

Birch water is the birch sap collected from birch trees. The harvest time of birch sap occurs for three weeks starting mid-March. During the winter season, various vital nutrients build up in birch trees. As soon as the winter season ends and the spring season begins these nutrients get released in the sap, running up the trunk from the roots to nourish the leaves.

This nutritious sap is usually collected by using small taps draining directly into bags, in the same way as maple syrup is collected. Once tapped, bottled and pasteurised, the birch tree water, which has a slightly sweet aftertaste, can be enjoyed as a refreshing, healthy drink full of natural nutrients and minerals.

Birch water delivers a health kick

Birch water is a low-calorie drink containing the natural sweetener xylitol. Xylitol is also known for preventing dental cavities. Many believe birch water offers more health benefits than coconut water, and is lower in sugar.

Birch water contains antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and is packed with electrolytes, such as calcium, manganese and zinc, providing ideal hydration properties. Birch water also contains saponin, which is known for lowering cholesterol content.

Further birch water benefit claims include: anti-ageing and anti-inflammatory properties which help with arthritis and rheumatism, as well as detox and cleansing features that help the kidneys and liver.

The current birch water market

The birch water market has become quite popular in the US and across many parts of Europe, slowly gaining a hold in the UK market.

Currently, the majority of birch water in the UK is sourced from Finland, Ukraine and Russia, brands such as Tapped and Go Birch. This water is usually available in different flavours, such as plain, apple & root ginger, blueberry & lingonberry or strawberry & raspberry.

Scottish birch water

The Birken Tree company, based in Perthshire, brought their Scottish birch water to market earlier this year. Run by Rob and Gabrielle, who work as foresters and healers, the couple decided to combine their knowledge and share the health potential of birch trees for a commercial market.

Unlike the other birch water brands, Birken Tree is sourced from Scottish woodland, hand harvested straight from the wild birch woods of Perthshire.

Rob and Gabrielle aim to sustainably manage the birch woodland, while bringing their product to market. Currently, they are selling to farm shops and delis in Perthshire, but are planning to expand their birch water range by adding sparkling birch water options, as well as different water flavours.

Growth opportunities

Birch tree water possibilities in Scotland offer forest companies a way to establish a sustainable forest management programme, which is more viable than the paper industry in the long-term. Scotland’s under-utilised birch woodland gives Scottish manufacturers the potential to capitalise on the growing birch water trend and help establish a thriving birch water market in Scotland.

For more information about the birch water trend, or to get help with improving your processes, people, and product development get in touch with our innovation team and make innovation happen in your business.

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