- Cola Admits That Dasani is Nothing But Tap Water
B y Trevor Datson
Coca Cola's Plan: Just Say No - To Drinking Tap Water
"Coke's in hot water," "Eau dear"
and "The real sting" were three good examples
of the newspaper headline writer's art, but the only real
difference between Dasani and many other bottled waters
is that the humble origin of the product is firmly in
Figures from independent beverage research company Canadean
show that at least two out of every five bottles of water
sold around the world are, like Dasani, "purified"
waters, rather than "source" waters which originate
from a spring.
Most of the supermarket own-label bottled waters consist
of treated mains water. They may be dechlorinated, filtered
further, purified using ultraviolet light and have minerals
either added or subtracted. They may also be carbonated.
In short, they are subjected to many of the same treatments
that source waters undergo to satisfy public health requirements
after being pumped up from the ground.
Alongside flagship brands such as Evian, Perrier, and
Malvern, most of the big-name water producers market several
purified water lines, often in countries where the safety
of the public water supply is a concern.
Nestle's Pure Life is one such leading brand and PepsiCo's
Aquafina is another, while Danone's Sparkletts and Alhambra
marques are top sellers in the United States, where mains
water purity is not usually an issue.
You also have mixed source waters, like Nestle's Aquarel,
which comes from seven different springs. Such spring
water is cheaper to produce and therefore to sell, and
has proved a big hit with consumers in Europe and elsewhere.
But generally speaking, anything that doesn't say "source"
or "spring" on the label is just fancy tap water.
So why all the brouhaha over Dasani, a fairly typical
product in a rapidly expanding market?
The origin of UK Dasani (it's produced all around the
world but is always purified rather than source water)
came to light when a complaint was made to the British
Food Standards Agency over Coke's use of the word "pure"
in its Dasani marketing.
The complaint, now being dealt with by the local authorities
where Dasani is bottled in Sidcup, east London, hinges
on the charge that the marketing implies that tap water
As a market for bottled water, the UK is relatively immature.
Britons consume an average of 28 litres of bottled water
per year, compared with about 140 litres for Italy and
So the fact that bottlers take water, purify it further
and sell it on can hit the headlines, especially if the
water producers take a substantial mark-up in the process.
"Coke didn't do itself any favours by not getting
the water supplier on side to begin with," one drinks
industry insider said of the local supplier Thames Water.
Like Nestle, McDonald's and Cadbury Schweppes, Coke makes
a gratifying target for journalists, in that all those
companies trade heavily on their brand.
That makes them extremely vulnerable to criticism, as
Coke already found to its cost with its failed "New
YOU'RE NOT JUST BUYING WATER
Coca-Cola's seven million pound marketing drive for Dasani
has taken a savage hit, but the success of the brand in
other countries, such as the United States where it is
the number two seller, suggests it isn't about to go away.
In the developing world you usually buy bottled water
because it's clean, or because it doesn't taste of chlorine.
In the west, it's a "lifestyle choice".
Most consumers in developed countries would accept that
the water that comes out of their taps is clean enough
and quite serviceable for cooking, washing or even drinking.
But just as a pair of supermarket own-brand running shoes
will do the job, Nike, Reebok and Adidas can all charge
top dollar for the kudos, the street cred, the style statement
This is the essence of brand equity, and it's why consumers
are happy to pay over the odds for Welsh TyNant water
in Cyprus, or French Evian in the Peruvian Andes. It's
also why the "water sommelier" has become a
feature of upmarket U.S. restaurants.
"Branding does matter, even for a mundane product
like water," Frits van Dijk, chief executive of Nestle
Waters, said last year.
"We produce value-added waters. Marketing and R&D
all have to be financed somehow and that's why you'll
never see Nestle in the very low price market. It's not