Air Up is the world’s first drinking bottle that flavors water only by scent with the help of retronasal smelling, according to its co-founder Lena Jüngst who speaks exclusively to PackagingInsights.
She explains how the concept is good for consumer health and is a “more sustainable alternative” to flavored and sweetened beverages. Jüngst also shares the science behind how taste is transported through air.
Essentially, consumers are “tricking the brain” by using the Air Up bottle.
The drinking system adds taste to water without using any additives. By transporting scent through air and using the biological effect of retronasal olfaction, the brand has created an impression of taste that is actually scent.
Commenting on how the idea first came about, Jüngst and Tim Jäger, CTO and founder, were writing their bachelor thesis under the topic “Neuroscience meets design.”
“At the time, we were watching some Ted Talks about neuroscience and stumbled across the so-called ‘retronasal smelling’ and how taste can be transported through the air.”
“We immediately had this idea that we might have the opportunity to find an interesting solution to the health issues related to modern diets.”
What if it was possible to trigger the sensation of flavor without having to add all those unhealthy ingredients?
“Together with Tim, I then started looking for the perfect project for our bachelor thesis. This led to the idea of designing a drinking bottle that can flavor water just by scent,” Jüngst says.
All the flavor with no additives
Through this concept, water can taste like a flavored drink, even though you are only drinking water – “one could say you trick your brain by using our air up bottle,” explains Jüngst.
It is possible to create an impression of taste by transporting scent through air and using the biological effect of retronasal olfaction.
“Compared to other drinks with flavor, we do not add any ingredients into the water, but only transport scent through air by using the biological effect of retronasal olfaction, which creates an impression of taste that is actually scent,” she continues.
“When we realized we would be able to provide flavor with no additives at all, it was more sustainable than other flavored drinks, and the business case was attractive, we simply had to do it.”
“The bottle’s interchangeable scent pods add naturally flavored air to water, which is perceived as taste by our brain. This way, we enable our customers not to consume unnecessary and unhealthy ingredients, but only clear water.”
“So, you not only trick your brain, but you also save your body from proven harmful sweeteners, stabilizers or acid regulators.”
How does it work?
Incidentally, the fragrance-air function can be easily activated and deactivated using a sliding mechanism.
There is a carrier in the pods that can absorb liquid natural aromas, similar to a sponge.
“These natural aromas come from a leading German aroma house and are obtained from real fruits and plants,” adds Jüngst. However, as the flavors are made of natural aromas, they will get weaker over time.
“Our pods are made for at least 5 L of flavored water. As our packaging always contains three Air Up pods, you will get at least 15 L of flavored water by that. That means 23 refills of our Air Up bottle which holds 650 ml.”
The design and shape of the Air Up bottle is made to support the drinking system.
“There is a slight kink at the top of our bottle that makes it easy to drink with the straw – this creates a unique drinking experience and additionally distinguishes us from other bottles,” notes Jüngst.
“So, after filling the Air Up bottle with still or sparkling water, you only have to select your favorite flavor and put the scent pod on the head part.”
By sucking on the silicone attachment, a suction is created that transports the water and air from the outside through the fragrance pod into the mouth. This is where retronasal olfaction comes into play, affirms Jüngst.
As the flavored air rises from the water, it is perceived as a taste at the olfactory center, the portion of the cerebral cortex concerned with the sense of smell.
Water temperature and scent
When asked if water temperature affects scent, Jüngst replies: “In the case of the Air Up bottle, we always use slightly cold water when we are doing consumer tastings, for example.”
“If you are using water that is too cold, you will get a ‘brain freeze effect,’ which would not affect the smell of our pods, but you would be distracted by the pain and therefore not be able to concentrate on the smell itself,” she elaborates.
“I wouldn’t recommend using warmer water as it’s less refreshing than slightly cold water. So, in general, the retronasal smell is less dependent on the temperature, but the temperature can be used to support the taste sensation.”
Air Up bottles are made of BPA-free Tritan, which is not designed for hot temperatures.
Tritan is a commercially available plastic used to make drinking bottles globally. The company chose Tritan for its bottles due to its versatility, while the robust material makes the bottle suitable for all activities.
Flavors tick boxes
Interestingly, some of the Air Up flavors taste more intense when using sparkling water instead of still water.
All the Air Up flavors follow the company’s launch strategy, which Jüngst says is based on broader trends such as popular culture, flavor inspirations, and whether there is a long-time customer request for a particular taste.
“You can think of this flavor selection process as a funnel. First, we check the market data, the trends and the consumer demands. Then we form that and see which of them ticks all our boxes – like fitting the customer’s request, passing the flavor test, and what fits best in our communication strategy.”
Air Up is developing its current product portfolio and thinking about how to combine new materials, colors and flavors with the drinking system.”
The Air Up water bottle is currently available in seven European countries – Germany, Austria, Swiss, France, Belgium, Netherlands, and the UK.
In the future, Jüngst says the company wants to “carry our vision further.”
“Next year, we are planning to be available in more European countries, as well as in the US,” she reveals.
“As far as we know, no one has ever used retronasal smelling like we do to create flavor. The response has been amazing so far, and we already have over 1 million consumers using our air up bottle frequently.”
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