UK Bottled Water Execs (Including Nestle’s) Fear “Bottlemania,” Consumer Backlash

Elizabeth Royte’s book – titled Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought it – isn’t making bottled water executives very happy (not if UK’s Financial Times is any indication):

FT.com / UK – Bottlers of water try to turn off the tap

Elizabeth Royte’s book, Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It, is causing waves.

The book, which describes bottled water as “the biggest scam in marketing history”, was held up as serious cause for concern at the annual conference of the British bottled water industry this month.

Industry executives fear the work, which was published in May, could be as influential on public sentiment as Eric Schlosser’s early 1990s investigation into the American fast food industry, Fast Food Nation: What the All-American Meal is Doing to the World .

For those who haven’t read it, Royte’s well-researched book travels around North America, looking at drinking water issue, though it’s primarily focused on Fryeburg – the small Maine town that’s been the subject of so much Nestle controversey (as well as the victim of a five lawsuits/appeals filed by the multinational).

Bottlemania’s been one example of the growing chorus of dissent over bottled water, and yet if anyone was feeling complacent about the victories so far, I’d urge them to hold onto their hats.

Huge, profit-hungry corporations are not about to give in without a fight:

Leading bottled water brands such as Danone and Nestlé have been slow in addressing their dwindling sales. As Danone says: “We’ve been a little bit late out of the blocks in pushing back.” But now they are fighting back.

All companies are impressing on consumers that they can drink bottled water with a clear conscience if they recycle the packaging. Coca-Cola, the owner of the Dasani water brand, is opening what it claims is the world’s largest plastic bottle recycling plant in South Carolina early next year.

Companies are also trying to position themselves as guardians of the public health by arguing that their bottles of water can help defeat the obesity epidemic.

“Our product is probably the healthiest beverage when you consider the growing concern of obesity,” claims Nestlé.

Expect a tsunami of greenwash, misinformation and the kind of odd perspective only a corporate PR person can bring to the table. Nestle’s already starting to play more aggressively on the Internet (both directly and via proxies), and we’ll continue to keep tabs on their more outrageous efforts.

The good news? Even corporate branding types think bottled water might be on the way out:

Don Williams, chief executive of London-based brand consultancy PI
Global, says the concept of bottling and branding a natural and free
commodity now seems “incongruous”.

“Inevitably the plug is being
pulled and consumers, urged on by a crescendo of dissent and disgust,
are turning towards their taps once more,” he says. “The more you think
about it, the more daft it is. Isn’t it about time someone set up a
factory in the Swiss Alps bottling clean, fresh, pure air? I’m sure
there’d be a market for it.”

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