Ontario-made maple sap drink a global winner

Kiki Maple Sweet Water a global winner

Kiki Maple Sweet Water comes in four flavours

Few things are more symbolic of Canada than maple.

And although maple sap is most commonly associated with maple syrup, Canadian entrepreneur Keith Harris has brought it to the beverage market.

His award-winning KiKi Maple Sweet Water has been turning heads globally and is so chock full of nutrients that he calls it “nature’s Sport’s Drink”.

“Maple sap contains 80 different nutrients that your body needs to stay alive.

Coconut water, which is also a tree water, is a very popular drink in the United States right now, but maple sap is an untapped resource in Ontario,” he explains. “It’s going to take off and become a successful product worldwide.”

A lover of country life, Harris had long dreamed of leaving his job in the auto industry and returning to crisp air and nature.

The dream became a reality in 2009 when he founded his company, Troll Bridge Creek, and together with wife Lorraine, launched KiKi Maple Sweet Water, a drink based on the sap he remembered drinking straight from the tree as a youngster in rural Ontario.

“Japan is the second largest importer of Canadian maple syrup, and this will surpass the maple syrup business in sales,” he predicts.

Maple Sweet Water is what natives called maple sap, which they consume for its health-boosting properties, and Harris’ goal is to bring that maple sap to the world in beverage form.

Globally, Harris is distributing in the United States, Europe, Australia, and Korea, and is hoping to launch in Japan by 2016.

Here at home, his product is available primarily in health and specialty food shops, as well as some Sobey’s and Foodland grocery stores.

“Japan is the second largest importer of Canadian maple syrup, and this will surpass the maple syrup business in sales,” he predicts.

He currently produces four flavours, with blueberry being the most popular, followed by maple, strawberry, and cranberry.

KiKi Maple Sweet Water is sold in 300 mL environmentally friendly glass bottles at just under $3 a bottle, and a larger 946 mL bottle is currently in development.

Without a lot of money for advertising, Harris relies on in-store demos and attending events like trade shows to spread the word about his product.

He credits Bioenterprise and Ontario Agri-Food Technologies with helping him secure funds to attend out-of-country events, like a natural products expo in California, for example.

Bioenterprise has also provided support related to pricing, logistics, and contacts, he says, and an investment through the former Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program (CAAP) helped with processing, preservation, and packaging technologies.

And he’s getting noticed.

“This product is a given; it should have been done years ago, and we’re committed to growing what we have here in Ontario.”

In 2014, at the Global Bottled Water Congress in Budapest, he won an innovative beverages competition, and in Ontario, he garnered a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence. He was also named one of the top 10 innovators of the year by Food in Canada magazine in 2014.

The media is paying attention too, with coverage on CBC, CTV, Business News Network, 680 News, Newstalk 1010, the Marilyn Dennis Show, and the Financial Post among others.

According to Harris, it takes 40 litres of sap to boil down into one litre of maple syrup, but one litre of sap will yield 900 mL or three 300 mL bottles of maple sap beverage, dramatically raising the income that can be generated from each maple tree.

“We’re adding value to the Ontario economy, and although we’ve had requests to ship raw sap out of country, we want to keep those jobs here,” he says. “This product is a given; it should have been done years ago, and we’re committed to growing what we have here in Ontario.”

Although Harris buys all his sap just once a year during the winter sap season from a southwestern Ontario sugar bush near Komoka, KiKi Maple Sweet Water is processed and bottled year-round in a facility in Toronto.

Bottling as needed extends shelf-life, which is about two years.  No sugar and no water are ever added, and the beverage doesn’t need cold storage.

Down the road, Harris is eyeing new flavours, as well as new markets in South America, where coconut water is popular in Brazil, and in Asia and Europe, where consumers are familiar with birch water.

“If they’re drinking coconut or birch, they understand there’s goodness in tree water. Its health benefits make it a natural sports drink,” he says.

Competing maple sap beverages are now slowly emerging in North America, a presence that Harris welcomes as he believes it will help grow the market.

KiKi Maple Sweet Water can be consumed straight from the bottle, or added to smoothies, soda water, or even alcohol as a mix.

Funding for CAAP was provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. In Ontario, this program was delivered by the Agricultural Adaptation Council.