Bottled Water: the Incredible Profitability Around a Misleading Product

The business around bottled water is a very profitable domain as it reaches impressive amount of sales ($688 million this year). What makes it very successful is the fact that consumers are in reality paying 2000 times the price of water. Effectively, getting directly from the tap is much cheaper.

The most intriguing fact about this incredible business is that the majority of consumers cannot even differentiate between tap water and bottled one, the latter is not even healthier or more beneficial than the other, and last but not least, some companies use tap water to source their product.

Real provenance of bottled water:

The different brands of water do not tell automatically where their waters comes from. Effectively, some of them, mainly labelled ones, can easily provide you with the information while others will remain silent about it. And this can be easily understood when you discover the different types of water we buy.

Water that is bottled can be: spring, mineral, artesian, glacier, rain and even tap water. Buying tap water for a much higher price can definitely hinder the success of a company. Thus, companies bottling this type of water refuses to talk about it, as the law does require them to do so.

Using water from tap, or any other source does not mean that it is directly put inside bottles; it obviously implies some treatment such as distillation or osmosis.  This is mentioned through the label “purified water” on the bottle.

Key of success:

It is interesting to understand what pushes people into paying a large amounts of money for a product almost free.

  • Association with nature:

“The bottled water companies aren’t telling us their water is any better than tap water […]”People make that association from the imagery and the labelling that it comes with.” (Paul Henry)

As highlighted by Paul Henry, an Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s Business School and Elizabeth Royte, author of “Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It”, people assumed that bottled water was better than tap one, and believed it for hundreds of years now. However, this assumption is not coming from nowhere; effectively, if companies do not mention that bottled water is better, they definitely use strategies to push towards its association with purity.

“Bottled water companies use names and images that either subtly or overtly evoke purity and links with nature, and consumers might presume these to be ‘better’ and ‘cleaner’ than tap water. You’ll see many images of mountains, rivers, creeks and forests on the label – the iconography of the pure and the natural” (Elizabeth Royte)

This use of images and words to mislead the consumers can be easily noticed in all supermarkets. Indeed, it is very common to see images of rivers, mountains and nature and to read names referring to natural areas on the different bottles of water. However, in many cases, these waters are not even related to the places their bottles refer to. A well know example is the water used in Coca-Cola in Australia; it is called Amatil’s Mount Franklin but does not come necessarily from Mount Franklin. Coca cola uses in fact different sources, some of them extremely far from the alpine region.

  • Wisdom of words

Words are not only meaningful when used in the brand name, they can also be used on the labels to claim the advantages of the water. Effectively, wisely chosen words such as “natural”, “pure” … can definitely make a difference. And the more these words are used on a label the more chances it has to attract consumers. As expressed by Royte “The marketers want potential consumers to think that tap water is unnatural”, but the fact is bottled water is not necessarily more pristine or purer than tap water, as it is the case in Australia which has some of the best tap water of the world.

  • Appealing look

Besides the words and images used on the bottles, it is important to have a package appealing as much as possible. One of the most effective ways is to have first of all a clear package so that you can see clearly through and get this impression of purity. Another option, is to have a package with a tint of blue, which also reminds of natural water. Some brands take the transparency even further as they use partly transparent labels to emphasize this image of purity.  Quality of water can also be highlighted through the package by using more prestigious materials than plastic such as glass.

  • Targeted segment

These past years have known an incredible rise of attention regarding fitness and clean food. These became clearly an emblem of healthy life style and bodies. Therefore, companies of bottled water targets the fitness crowd to emphasize the cleanliness of their products. One example of that is Coke’s Pump brand, which make people think directly about the possibility of lifting. Moreover, sponsorship of sports events can also help gaining consumers.

  • Innovative products:

In order to expand the customer portfolio, companies of bottled water worked on offering diversified products. This is how flavored waters arrived to the market. These are healthier alternative to soft drinks with a more taste than normal water. However, even though it is healthier it is not a healthy option as it contains a lot of sugar and some acids. This can be very harmful for consumers’ health and can cause teeth decays.

Drawbacks of bottled water:

Even though companies of bottle water convey this image of nature friendly, a deeper analysis can quickly highlight all the inconvenient of bottled water business. Effectively, if bottled water appear to be more natural and cleaner than tap water, its industrialization causes a lot of harm to the environment.

  • Water waste

According to the Pacific Institute, it takes twice as much water to make a plastic bottle than the amount it holds.

  • Waste of energy

The production of bottled water requires different engagements: transportation (from collection point to a bottling plant to a warehouse to retailers), refrigerating it and so on. All these activities need energy, a consumption that could be avoided by drinking tap water.

  • Plastic bottles disposal

Nowadays, the attention is drawn towards recycling. However only a small part of the plastic bottles used are in fact ending up in recycling bins. Therefore, a huge amount is left with other garbage, threatening more and more the environment.

What can be done? 

The main behavior to adopt in order to help saving the environment and to save money in the process is definitely to use tap water. This can easily be transported through a reusable bottle, kept cold thanks to an insulated water bottle and filtrated with a water filter if the taste or the quality is doubtful.

These small actions can help, step by step, make this world a better one (and your wallet a more filled one)


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