americans and their fascination with bottled water


My fake plants died because I did not pretend to water them.” bottled water vase Mitch Hedberg




I do chuckle about Americans and their love of bottled water.


It is especially humorous since the good ole USofA may have the best tasting … and least unhealthy … tap water in the world <I will now have a gazillion emails regarding the miniscule risk of disease and illness by hyping the minute particles of mercury or iron or radiation found in tap water>.




Everywhere you go you see row after row of bottled water in a variety of well-designed colorful containers with names spanning the local “if it’s from here it must be fresh” and exotic “if it’s from here it must taste good”.


Everywhere you go you see people walking with water bottle, drinking from water bottles and looking out of place without their water bottles <sometimes even panicking without their water bottles>.

And I mean everywhere in America … as well as wherever Americans go.


It used to be when you traveled outside of United States you could always spot an American out of any crowd by:

–          A baseball hat

–          Tennis shoes <athletic not fashion>

–          Shorts


bottled water pinkEuropeans scoffed at these American fashion faux pas.



It’s the water bottle.


“oh, those Americans, always have a water bottle wherever they go.”




I am all for people drinking more water. It is good for you.

But all of a sudden drinking water has become fashionable. And when something becomes fashionable some fairly absurd things begin to happen.

For example … I recently read that they were building stadiums and parks without access to tap water <i.e., drinking fountains>.

It seems we’re so used to the fact that there is bottled water somewhere we will disregard providing access to it … even if that means free water is nowhere.


Uh oh.

But I am fairly sure access to clean water is a basic human right.


The UN declared it so in 2010.

So even on the most basic level buildings and parks which ignore the installation of drinking fountains or ignore the upkeep of existing fountains they are not only ignoring a basic human right but they are not meeting an international dictate.


It is kind of crazy <on a variety of levels>.


A number of places, not the bottled water companies of course, have researched and sampled a wide array of the trendiest bottled waters to see how they stacked up against good old-fashioned tap water.


After sipping and swirling from the chilled bottles of brand name water and good ole tap water … well … suffice it to say the research shows most of us schmucks can’t tell the difference between bottled water and tap water.



I am not anti-bottled water.


But there is a generation that’s grown up thinking water comes in a plastic bottle.


And we have all been twisted by advertising and marketing telling us bottled water is better … to a point where we actually convince ourselves it is better <and being typical crazy irrational people … we convince ourselves in a variety of absurdly creative ways>.


But it seems even crazier when you see headline after headline about ‘a tough economy’ or how even middle class households are feeling an economic squeeze.

Why is it crazy?

Bottled water is all about ‘I want to sell you something that most people canbottled water drip already get for free, or almost free, and you’re going to pay a lot more money for it.’



And while bottled water costs lots more the quality is pretty much the same <differences are miniscule if not meaningless> as the less expensive stuff, or almost free stuff, that you’re getting now.


And, by the way, the free stuff is already being delivered straight to your home. You don’t even have to transport it anywhere.


It’s nuts.

It’s nuts because this is an entire industry built almost exclusively in our heads. We perceive there is a difference to such an extent that the difference has actually become a reality.

We taste bottled water and say things like ‘this is so much better.’

We drink bottled water and say things like ‘it is so much better for me.’



Welcome to the world of dancing on the head of a pin.


bottled water canBecause if you want to live in the world of extraneous inconsequential nuance go ahead and continue stocking up on bottled water.




How did bottled water business become an 11 billion-dollar industry in the USA?


You can fairly easily date it to around 1977 when Perrier was introduced to urban areas. It was a real niche product.

But the industry really began its change in about 1989 with what would appear to be an uneventful and certainly unspectacular technological innovation – a plastic container.


All of a sudden bottlers could put water into very lightweight, cheap, very clear plastic called PET plastic. I imagine the next big moment in the history of bottled water was in the ’90s when Coke and Pepsi got into the business.

They were smart. They didn’t really care about providing better quality water to people … but rather they were taking criticism for pushing sugary, fattening drinks. So they extended their products lines to offer ‘healthier alternatives’ … one of which was something wacky called ‘water.’


From there we were hooked. And, yeah, we’re pretty susceptible to marketing.


Basically a gazzillion dollars of marketing was spent telling us that the water they were selling was pure, and healthy and clean and crisp tasting.

And … as any marketing book will tell you … not only did the message sound really good but there wasn’t much marketing competition from tap water. Bottled water dominated marketing share of voice – 100% to 0%.


So bottled water had all of our attention and we bought into those messages.


And it was also … uhm … cool.

They gave us the perception that bottled water signified that cool people drink bottled water and uncool people only drank tap water.

We were sucked in from then on.


Eventually the messaging morphed from ‘being cool’ to ‘fear.’


They would argue ‘healthy ingredients’ but the reality is they played the ‘fear card.’

The idea that perhaps any unfiltered water could lead to health issues <this could be implied or boldly stated>.


And they stated this unequivocally all the while stating the bottled water … the water they run it through micro-filters and reverse osmosis and expose to ultraviolet light and ozonation and put it into metal or plastic bottles … is healthier than tap water.



The water that comes straight from the ground through pipes, that may or may not be whatever they want you to fear, into your home is less healthy <or as fresh> than the water they pump out of the ground and place into tanker trucks which go to bottling plants then put it into little bottles only to be shipped to some distribution center to eventually end up sitting on some shelf at a store near you.



That sounds pretty absurd, doesn’t it?



About 90+% of the community water systems in the USA meet or exceed federal standards.


As far as our worry over the spread of water related diseases … the reality is that by the middle of the last century, water-related diseases dropped by 95% and they still continue to drop.


And check out this little research tidbit:


“While both Fiji Water and Cleveland’s tap water met all federal standards, the lab tests reportedly indicated that Fiji Water contained volatile plastic compounds, 40 times more bacteria than are founding well-run municipal water systems, and most noticeably, over six micrograms per liter of arsenic. Cleveland tap water had no measurable arsenic.” – Gleick


Our population has never been more aware of their health.

And people are truly trying to make healthier buying decisions … especially the easy ones.

But somehow bottled water has put up some fog machine over our decision making skills.




I know I have mixed feelings about bottled water <even though it may not seem that way up to this point>..


bottled water magicBecause while you will see article after article about how people are buying bottled water instead of soda … well … not really.


People are buying both.


Overall liquid consumption per person is increasing as people don’t really want to sacrifice the Coke or Pepsi or Mountain Dew they love … but say ‘hey, if drinking water makes me healthier … what the heck … let’s drink some water.”



Seeing as you can only drink so much every day without exploding or moving your office into the bathroom you may inadvertently cut back on your Coke/Pepsi … but … most people will ‘catch up’ on their favorite drink at some point.


I am not opposed to bottled water if it makes it easier for people to kill their addiction to soda.




Americans clearly accept the idea of paying for water … shit … they clearly accept the idea of paying a premium price for water.


Beverage industry expert MarketWatch reports:

“The hottest new beverage is water. Water is one of the fastest growing segments of the beverage industry.”

The Motley Fool adds:bottle water growth motley fool

“Bottled water and energy drinks are the fastest growing drinks in the developed world.”



Despite the fact that the average American now drinks 29 gallons of bottled water a year … the sugar soda market is huge – maybe $75 billion dollars in sales. Soda may be losing sales to healthier alternatives but they are manufacturing options for us.


And it isn’t tap water. They are being creative with alternative to sugar sodas <and tap water>:


–          ENERGY DRINKS: The market for them is impressive: Yahoo Finance reports that for 2012, total sales for energy drinks came to $12.5 billion dollars.


–          VITAMIN WATER: It’s a great idea to offer a potential health benefit bottled water smart waterlike vitamins. No question about it. Sales in this category are estimated to be between $1 billion and $1.4 billion. That’s smaller than the other drinks but it’s growing very quickly.



Alternatives or not … it really doesn’t matter because Americans will end up buying what is being sold them. We like new stuff. We like image. We like status. And we like marketing which feeds into those things.


We may be fascinated with water bottles today … but I imagine us crazy Americans will be fascinated with something else tomorrow.


In the end.


Bottled water isn’t the worst thing in the world.

It’s better to buy water than to buy a soda.


But I imagine the real question is … why buy water at all?

It’s for free.

Be smart about water <no … not smartwater> and maybe just drink the free stuff.

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Written by Bruce