Glaceau"s ads featuing Jennifer Aniston promote "water that is the envy of all water."
Is it just me, or are other readers bothered by bottled water advertising, especially the ubiquitous Glaceau SmartWater ads featuring a nearly naked Jennifer Aniston? Billed as "water that is the envy of all water," SmartWater is promoted with spots that leave you vaguely nervous about the once-trusted H20 from your tap. "What do you drink for purity?" one asks. "It’s dirty out there." Further, the ads state baldly that the company "makes" its water "the way nature used to." So nature is out of the clean water business now? By adding electrolytes and other mumbo jumbo, Glaceau wants to turn itself into the equivalent of a winery. Who can resist stuff like this: "Smart Water begins as an artesian spring in Northern Connecticut. After the water is distilled, a balance of Magnesium, Potassium, and Calcium is introduced, adding electrolytes." And so it becomes something more than mere water. It’s electrolyte-enhanced hydration. It’s inspired by the hydrologic cycle and "the way Mother Nature makes water." It"s, well, SmartWater.
By the way, Glaceau is no longer the little watermaker that could. Coca-Cola bought the Queens, New York-based company last year for $4.2 billion, with analysts speculating that it would fill a gap in the soda maker’s "noncarb portfolio." Beverage Digest reports that the company sold 77 million 192-ounce cases in 2006. The star in the company’s crown is Vitamin Water, which comes in designer colors and is sold for premium prices.
The good news about bottled water is that the media is finally paying attention. For example, a Philadelphia Inquirer article notes that, "Bottled water, once an icon of a healthy lifestyle, has become a pariah, the environmentally incorrect Humvee of beverages. In recent months, dissent over the once innocuous bottle of Aquafina or Dasani has grown from a trickle to a tsunami."
A USA Today article reports, "Backlash against bottled water is spreading, prompting bans on the plastic bottles at city-sponsored events in some communities, their removal from restaurant menus and campaigns urging the use of tap water instead….Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has endorsed a proposal to add a 10-cent tax to each bottle, which would bring the city about $21 million a year."
Will this backlash become powerful enough to depress sales and reduce the profitability of some big blue-chip companies? Danone’s water portfolio accounts for around 25 percent of its total revenue. Current and would-be investors will want to keep an eye out for further developments.
The industry says it’s not worried. The New York Times carried the following exchange between writer Claudia Deutsch and Kim E. Jeffery, an executive with Nestlé (which owns Poland Spring):
Deutsch: Environmentalists are trying to make people feel uncool,
even guilty, about carrying around bottles of water. Don’t you fear a backlash?
Jeffery: Not at all. We’re aware of the heightened noise level, and ever since July, we’ve been doing telephone and Internet surveys every few weeks, checking on whether people’s perception of our industry is changing. The research consistently shows that people are aware of the issues surrounding bottled water — but they are not going back to sugared drinks, and they will not rely on their taps.
Still, while sales of bottled water are still growing, the pace is slowing. Beverage Digest recently reported that retail sales of bottled water (excluding vending machines and Wal-Mart) grew only nine percent in 2007 compared with 16 percent in 2006.
Whatever the industry says about being unfairly targeted, there’s no denying that bottled water is incredibly wasteful. According to the Container Recycling Institute, 86 percent of water bottles, or as much as two million tons of plastic a year, get thrown away instead of recycled. That’s not counting the big environmental bills for transportation, storage and delivery.
JIM MOTAVALLI is editor of E.
CONTACT: Message in a Bottle: E’s Bottled Water Story