Tag Archives: elizabeth royte

Bottled Water Industry Vilifying Tap Water In Attempt to Bolster Sagging Sales

“Good corporate citizen” Nestle never passes up an opportunity to spin its “good neighbor” message to the world, but according t0 a memo obtained by the UK Scotsman, Nestle’s part of a campaign attempting to vilify the quality of tap water.

The Scotsman obtained a 3-page memo written by a PR firm working for the Natural Hydration Council (the UK’s bottled water industry trade group that’s the equivalent of North America’s IBWA).

Nestle is a leading player in the group, and we’ll let the Scotsman’s reporter lay out the ugly details:

AIDES working for bottled water producers are planning to use scare tactics to protect falling sales in Scotland by attacking the quality of tap water supplied to consumers.

The tactics are outlined in a memorandum drawn up by a public relations company employed by the industry to be used in case “the media turns hostile to our cause”.

It suggests using data on contamination of public water supplies with potentially-harmful bugs, such as E Coli and cryptosporidium, to highlight the merits of drinking bottled water. Sales of bottled water have fallen nationally over the last year because of the effects of the recession on disposable incomes.

The memo, obtained by Scotland on Sunday, was written by a London PR company working for the Natural Hydration Council, an industry lobby group funded by three major bottled water companies. They include Nestlé, which markets Vittel and Perrier; Danone, which produces Volvic and Evian; and Perthshire-based Highland Spring.

The Scotsman quoted several passages in the memo which clearly indicate the PR firms plan to attack the quality of bottled water should media coverage turn “hostile” – but later the writer of the memo contradicts what he wrote.

It was sent to an Edinburgh-based communications company, 3X1 – which is paid by the industry to lobby on its behalf – to be deployed on the same day as the annual publication of Scotland’s Drinking Water Quality Regulator, last Thursday.

The regulator’s report concluded that the quality of Scottish drinking water remains “extremely high” with 99.75 per cent of supplies meeting safety standards. It adds that two tap samples in Scotland contained E Coli in 2008, an improvement on 2007 when five failures were recorded.

[ed: emphasis mine] This prompted Julie McGarvey, of 3X1 to write to her colleague James Laird, at Epicurus Communications in London: “Clock the E Coli data. Good to keep up our sleeve.”

Laird wrote back that he had already written a memo, based on an analysis of reports by the Drinking Water Inspectorate in England, that had “observations” that might be useful “should the media turn hostile towards our cause.”

He adds that the report offers “potential sound-bite notes that could be used for NHC un-attributable media briefings.” “Unattributable briefings” is lobby group shorthand for information passed to journalists on condition they do not name their source.

After reading the last paragraph above, now read the astonishing denial by the consultant who wrote the quoted memo:

Asked whether the examples of problems in the public water supply would be communicated to journalists, he replied: “Absolutely not. The NHC supports the consumption of all water, whether bottled or tap. There is no intent, desire or mandate to criticise tap water on behalf of the NHC.”

One word leaps to mind.

Sleazy.

Earlier, we chronicled the attacks launched on tap water quality by none other than Nestle Waters CEO Kim Jeffries and another UK bottler.

And even journalist and author Elizabeth Royte thinks its time to end the charade:

The bottled water industry continues to claim it competes not with tap water but with high-calorie and other processed drinks. The argument is getting a little tired.

And yes, one reason industries form trade groups like the Natural Hydration Council or North America’s International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) is so water bottlers don’t have to get their hands dirty.

They simply pay others to do their dirty work for them.

We’ve noted in the past that the bottled water industry – facing tough economic conditions and opposition on environmental grounds – will increasingly turn to FUD tactics (Fearn, Uncertainty, Doubt) to drive sales.

In this case, the evidence fell into the right hands, but how much of this kind of thing is currently being planned behind closed doors elsewhere?

Why else would the IBWA hire former Tobacco Institute spokesperson Tom Lauria?

In the light of stories like this, it’s clear.

The real “product” of the Tobacco Institute was “doubt” – an ongoing effort to undermine good science detailing the hazards of smoking, confusing consumers and providing cover for the industry.

Expect to see more “doubt” sown by the bottled water industry about the quality of the water that comes out of your tap.

And when you do, recognize it for what it is.

via Bottled water firms turn to scare tactics – Scotsman.com News.

Bottlemania Author Elizabeth Royte Visits Site of Proposed McCloud Water Bottling Plant

I spent Friday touring McCloud with Underground Fave writer and Bottlemania author Elizabeth Royte (her Web site), who wanted to see ground zero in the Nestle water bottling plant wars.

While the McCloud Services District has no contract with Nestle Waters, it’s clear Nestle’s knocking at the door; they want to sign a new contract before 2009 is finished (after stepping out of the old one, apparently without warning the board).

The tiny rural town – which was just starting to breathe a little in the last nine months – has been plunged righ back into the Nestle Water Wars by the multinational, which heard repeated requests from residents for a “little breathing space.”

Nestle shows every sign of being willing to simply grind this one out, and why not? The potential profits from a McCloud bottling plant are huge, which explains the kind of money they’ve been willing to sink into the project.

More to come on this one.

Royte’s Bottlemania Picked as Top 10 Green Book of 2008

Elizabeth Royte’s Bottlemania – a book which looks at America’s obsession with bottled water and uses Nestle Water’s battle in Fryeburg as a backdrop – was chosen as one of the Top 10 Green books of 2008 by Plenty magazine:

Royte “uses the story of a face-off between the small town of Fryeburg, Me., and the giant Swiss food conglomerate Nestlé, which, as the owner of Poland Spring water, sucked more than 168 million gallons of water out of Fryeburg in 2005 alone, as a prism through which to look at the many issues at stake in these water wars.” International Herald Tribune’s Lisa Margonelli added that “Where others are bold, Bottlemania is subversive, and after you read it you will sip warily from your water bottle (whether purchased or tap, plastic or not)…

Bottlemania’s even-handed approach makes it a “must-read” for anyone involved in the the bottled water wars.

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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