Bottled-water labeling: a source of irritation

August 01, 2007|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Columnist

Let me get this straight: That nifty blue label on a bottle of Aquafina, with the sun-peeking-over-the-mountains logo that hints the water comes from some bubbling spring high in the unspoiled wilderness, is a sham?

Because Aquafina comes from the same place as tap water?

From the same place your water comes from when you slurp from your garden hose?

Oh, that's beautiful.

That is really beautiful.

But that's what PepsiCo Inc., maker of Aquafina, the best-selling bottled water in the country, now admits.

Yes, Aquafina says, our water comes from your basic public-water sources.

FOR THE RECORD - In Kevin Cowherd's column Wednesday, an incorrect figure was listed for bottled water sales in 2006. The correct figure is $11 billion.

But then it's filtered through our "state-of-the-art HydRO-7 purification system" to get all the bad stuff out. And to make it taste great.

But we never, ever meant to mislead anyone about the water's source, the company said last week.

Right.

Sure.

Guess everyone will buy that.

In any event, because it's a good corporate citizen and wants to make sure there's absolutely no confusion over this issue, Aquafina says it'll come out with new labels that state "Public Water Source" on them.

Maybe the company should consider changing that nifty sun-and-mountains logo, too.

How about a new logo that shows a glass poised under a kitchen faucet, with a big, meaty fist about to turn the "cold" lever?

And maybe Aquafina could change its "Pure Water, Perfect Taste" slogan to read: "If It Tastes Familiar, There's a Reason."

Or it could read: "Just Like Mom Used to Pour ... in 1925."

Anyway, the Coca-Cola Co., which makes Dasani bottled water, is also being pressured to come clean in its marketing campaigns about using municipal water.

So is the maker of Nestle Pure Life, which says some of its bottled water comes from the same place as tap water, and some doesn't.

(Way to take a stand, Nestle!)

Maybe all this shocks the legions of wide-eyed consumers who've joined the cult of bottled-water worshipers.

But it sure doesn't shock me.

Look, I've always felt that in the entire history of mankind, there's never been a bigger scam perpetrated on the public than bottled water.

Water is water, I say.

It all pretty much looks the same, tastes the same and offers the same health benefits, no matter what anyone tells you.

And I have the credentials to back up that rant, seeing as how I was a judge at this year's Berkeley Springs (W.Va.) International Water-Tasting, the largest such event in the world, where I tasted 119 different water samples from 12 countries and 22 states over two days - in between lots of trips to the bathroom.

But over the past 10 years, bottled-water companies have insinuated in their marketing campaigns that their water is somehow healthier to drink.

They've portrayed drinking bottled water as a hip and sexy thing to do, something you do when you're a cut above everyone else, when you've "made it."

And they've hinted that the only people who still drink tap water are the sort of riff-raff who live in trailer parks, with snarling pit bulls tied to a chain in front of their homes.

A lot of consumers actually bought into this nonsense.

Bottled-water sales have been growing for years and topped $11 million last year. That was also the first year bottled-water sales topped beer sales in this country.

But how healthy, sexy and hip can Aquafina and the others be if they come from the same place where Joe's Diner and Earl's Super Car Wash get their water?

Anyway, this new controversy about Aquafina makes you wonder about those hammy commercials the company aired last year.

I'm talking about the ones set in a Bavarian-styled saloon, where there were men in lederhosen and alpine hats and beer maids in dirndl with plunging necklines, and everyone was singing and laughing and toasting each other with steins of Aquafina like it was some kind of wild Water Oktoberfest.

At the time, I remember watching those commercials and thinking: Who gets that excited about water?

Now I'd be thinking: Who gets that excited about tap water?

If you do, boy, you'd really have to examine your life.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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