It's not often that a hangover changes the course of someone's life.

But if it hadn't been for one particularly bleary-eyed morning after, V Water, the brainchild of Walter Faulstroh and Chris Coleridge, would never have seen the light of day. Thankfully for them it did, for in just 20 months the pair have built a bottled water business with £1.2m-worth of retail sales predicted for 2006. And they expect this to grow to “at least £5m” in 2007.

“It's been fantastic,” says Faulstroh. “At the start of this year we had just two employees, myself and Chris, now we have 12. We're growing really fast.”

The story started five years ago when Faulstroh couldn't find any functional water products in the UK, despite having seen them widely available in Japan and the US. So he started making his own in his kitchen.

Then, one day when Coleridge, a friend from business school, was slightly worse for wear, Faulstroh gave him a bottle of his home-made wonder juice for his train journey home.

Coleridge found himself explaining his condition, and the cure, to a fellow passenger, who asked where she could buy some of the water. Faulstroh and Coleridge quickly realised there was a niche here that needed to be filled.

Fast forward to the present day and 36,000 bottles of V Water are produced each week, sent out to almost 1,000 outlets, including Harvey Nichols, Fresh & Wild, Planet Organic and Whistlestop. The bigger retailers are starting to show an interest in the product, which retails at £1.50 per 500ml. Discussions are in progress with Booths and Waitrose, with a view to supplying them next year.

“At the start we didn't want to depend on a few big customers, so we built up a presence in the independent sector first. Now we're in a good position to talk to the multiples,” says Faulstroh.

The product is bottled spring water, enriched with vitamins and minerals, and different combinations are available to meet particular consumer needs. There's V Water Kick, for anyone requiring an energy boost. There's V Water Shield for those feeling a bit under the weather. There's V Water De-Stress - which speaks for itself - and there's V Water Glow to nourish the skin.

The drinks contain no preservatives, artificial colours or sweeteners and each line is also flavoured with its functional qualities in mind.

Glow, for instance, is flavoured with pomegranate and blueberry, for their anti-oxidant properties. Shield is flavoured with lemon and lime, both rich in vitamin C, and also contains echinacea and astragalus, herbs said to boost the immune system and help fight infections.

This combination of functional and tasty, without sweetness, has not been done before, claims Faulstroh.

“The biggest challenge was that we're not a juice, or a smoothie or a soft drink. We're a very new category for this market so talking to buyers was quite hard in the beginning.

There was also this belief that a drink has to be quite sweet in order to sell, so we had to challenge that. But now there's been a real shift in attitude, helped by the government's agenda for healthy products.”

We had to start from scratch, looking at everything as a consumer, so actually this was a big plus.”

A string of consumer studies highlighted which mood occasions would prompt people to buy the product and further work with a nutritionist resulted in the production of the first test batches.

After several consumer tastings, the first three recipes, Kick, Shield and De-Stress, were launched in March last year. Glow, a slight diversion from the mood-oriented angle, was added in September this year.

“We let consumers vote for new products on our website and Glow is the direct result of this,” says Faulstroh. “It's different because it's good for the skin - but it's been a really good launch. We've had a 75% uptake from our existing retailers and it has already become our number two best seller.”

Consumers are now being asked to vote for their favourite among variations that include drinks to 'detox me' and 'help me focus'. At the moment the variation with the most votes in one to 'beat the Monday blues'.

Got the bottle?

The start up process for V Water was not without its challenges. Before going into production Faulstroh and Coleridge asked consumers what they thought of the concept and what additional functional qualities they would want to see in a vitamin-water drink.

That was time consuming, but manageable. Far trickier was the task of finding a bottler that could meet their demanding standards. “We needed three main things,” says Faulstroh. “Natural spring water, someone who could cope with the volumes we anticipated - we were always looking for scale - and someone who could use a hot-fill technique to allow us to avoid using preservatives.”

They eventually found a suitable bottler in Glen Patrick Spring Water in Co. Tipperary, Ireland. Then labels were designed Faulstroh and Coleridge loaded the first 3,000 bottles in a van and pitched them to a handful of independents. The outlets were impressed, and by the start of this year 90 stores were stocking the product.

Glen Patrick produces 36,000 bottles each week that are shipped either directly to big consumers or to a warehouse just outside London for distribution.

Now around 1,000 independents have them on their shelves. If Waitrose and Booths come on board, Faulstroh's aim to more than triple sales next year to £5-10m looks eminently achieveable.

Product: Vitamin water
Retail sales: £1.2m
Ambient shelf life: 5 months
Established: 2005