Bottled water means big money

Americans have bought into the message that bottled water is healthier and better than tap water.

By Kim Peterson May 21, 2010 3:52PM
Bottled water © Grove Pashley/CorbisWhy are so many companies jumping into the bottled water business?

Consider this: In 1976, Americans were drinking an average of 1.5 gallons of bottled water a year. Now, we're up to at least 30 gallons a year, according to National Public Radio.

Water -- free for everyone from the tap -- has become a huge, glorious cash cow for corporate America. And companies from Coca-Cola (KO) to Clorox (CLX) want to make sure it stays that way.

Some great information on the bottled water industry comes from Peter Gleick, a member of the International Water Academy who was interviewed by Terry Gross of Fresh Air.

In Gleick's new book, he highlights ways that companies are trying to pump up bottled water sales. Post continues after video:
"Water fountains used to be everywhere, but they have slowly disappeared as public water is increasingly pushed out in favor of private control and profit," he writes in the book.

Americans now drink more bottled water than milk or beer, he writes. "There is a war on for the hearts, minds, and pocketbooks of tap water drinkers, a huge market that water bottlers cannot afford to ignore."

One obvious strategy of bottled water sellers is to attack the safety and purity of tap water. Gleick describes an ad from Calistoga Mountain Spring Water, for example, that asks, "How can you be sure your water is safe?"
An executive of Aquafina maker Pepsi (PEP) said in 2000 that the company isn't against tap water, Gleick writes. "It's good for irrigation and cooking," the executive said.

And Dasani maker Coca-Cola went so far as to develop a six-step program to help Olive Garden restaurants discourage customers from drinking tap water, Gleick writes.

Brita, the tap water filtration side ofClorox, aired a television commercial showing a glass of tap water refill to the sound of a flushing toilet, Gleick writes. Really makes you want to drink tap water, doesn't it?

These companies are extremely motivated, and the sales figures will tell you why. Between 1976 and 2008, sales of bottled water in the U.S. doubled four times, Gleick writes. By 2008, 9 billion gallons of bottled water were sold in the U.S.

An executive at the Quaker Oats Company said that "when we're done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes," Gleick writes.

It's amazing how much Americans will pay for something that they can get free out of the faucet. Bottled water companies are selling health and purity, and have convinced people that a plastic container makes water taste better.
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