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Times 7 Sep
The Bottled Water Phenomenon: A healthy profit on tap
By Rowland Nethaway
ACCORDING to a fly on the wall during the Coca-Cola board meeting when it was first proposed to sell bottled water:
'We've got to do something. These constant health scares about harmful effects of soft drinks have hurt our industry. Schools are removing our machines and refusing to sell our products in their cafeterias.'
'But what else can we do? We've already introduced a new drink with the sugar removed.'
'That's true. And we've introduced other drinks that removed the caffeine.'
'What's left for us to take out so we can overcome these complaints?'
'Why don't we remove everything?'
'Sure. No sugar. No substitutes. No caffeine. No flavourings. No secret formula.'
'That's ridiculous. What would we sell?'
'Water. We'd sell bottled water.'
'Just plain water?'
'Sure. We'd save billions on ingredients and gain the support of doctors and health groups.'
'So you're saying that we start selling bottles of Coca-Cola without any Coca-Cola in them?'
'Sure, but we give the water a new name so people don't think of what they aren't getting.'
'OK, but who would buy a bottle of plain water? The only people buying bottled water now want to show off by buying water imported from France or some exotic place.'
'We'd market our water for the people. Everyone would want to be seen carrying around a healthful bottle of water.'
'But where would we get access to a mountain spring or deep underground aquifer so we can claim to have healthy, pure water?'
'From the tap. United States tap water is some of the best water in the world. It is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and must meet stringent standards. On the other hand, bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration with much lower standards. Nothing beats US tap water.'
'How much can we charge?'
'If this thing catches on, people would pay more for bottled water than they pay for petrol for their cars.'
Even if the fly on the wall failed to record the event perfectly, the 'thing' certainly did catch on.
Last year, Americans shelled out more than US$11 billion (S$17 billion) to consume 31 billion litres of bottled water.
Bottled water can in fact cost more than US petrol - even with the recent run-up in petrol prices.
Coca-Cola's Dasani bottled water comes from the tap. So does Aquafina, the bottled water product from PepsiCo. It has been estimated that 40 per cent of all bottled water in the US comes from tap water. In many cases, the bottled tap water is filtered to remove any lingering odours.
Both government and private tests have shown that bottled water is no safer than tap water. The only difference is the cost to consumers and to the environment.
According to The New York Times, people in America who drink their recommended eight glasses of water a day from bottled water could spend in the neighbourhood of US$1,400 annually compared to 49 US cents for tap water.
An estimated 60 million plastic bottles are discarded in the US every day. All but a small portion of the discarded plastic bottles ends up in the nation's landfills or as litter in roadways, parks, rivers and streams.
The oil used in one year to make all those plastic water bottles could fuel an estimated 100,000 cars.
Bottled water has to be one of the world's greatest marketing ploys.
The writer is with the Waco Tribune-Herald. Cox News Service
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