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Only three decades ago few knew about mineral or spring water, and fewer still thought that one day most Canadians would spend a lot of money to buy it!
Of course, about that time tap water contained fewer off-odours than now; mush of it due to various chemicals added to render it safe.
There is a difference between mineral and spring water. The former must contain a minimum of 2000 parts per million dissolved minerals, whereas the later just comes from a natural spring. Both can be carbonated or not. In some countries mineral and spring waters must be bottled at the source and in others it may be transported and bottled elsewhere.
The then business-savvy managers of Perrier decided that North America was ready for an all-out marketing assault to promote bottled water. Thousands of sales representatives were equipped with untold amounts of Perrier, and told to call on every reputable restaurant and dining room manager/owner urging them to buy a few cases. Needless to say, only the profit motive of selling water was presented, that both establishment and servers stand to gain by “suggesting” Perrier. Some establishments bought the idea, and those astute enough to constantly urge servers to promote it made a lot of money, while reducing cost by foregoing regular “water” service. Soon other restaurateurs jumped on the bandwagon and the market was inundated with a plethora of brands from a number of countries. Europeans have always consumed bottled water, since most knew that their tap water was recycled a number of times. It is said that the water of the Rhine River is drawn by seven German cities and recycled until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean after flowing though the Netherlands.
The French are the most avid mineral water consumers (90 percent) and have a lot of brands, Perrier being the most popular. Allied soldiers stationed in Europe after the Second World War had learned how much safer it was to drink bottled water and continued looking for it upon their return.
Today, bottled water (spring and mineral) is a multi-billion dollar business in North America and even Coca Cola (Dasani) and Pepsi (Aqufina) decided to market filtered and ozonized water!
Needless to say, phenomenally high profit margins had something to do with their decision.
In North America only 70 percent of the population consumes bottled water, and instead of the recommended eight glasses, most people opt for five. The potential for growth is therefore huge, and marketing savvy companies with a good cash flow know to capitalize on the potential.
Of the 700 branded waters worldwide Canada’s share is relatively small. However in the USA Canadian water enjoys an excellent reputation based on the perception that all the water comes from pristine and unspoiled natural reserves. This perception helps sell huge amounts of Canadian bottled water in the USA.
Everywhere in the USA you can find Canadian bottled water including Dasani and Aquafina at exorbitant cost. Restaurant patrons in New York always order bottled water by brand, and never with ice cubes. In high-end French restaurants, servers proudly present a carte d’eau, and politely inquire which brand you prefer.
Of course recent municipal unsafe water fiascos in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland contributed to an increase in bottled water consumption. Even laboratory tests of “branded” bottled water show traces of contamination mainly due to unclean processing machinery.
Bottled water is calorie-free, whereas a small glass (5oz) of wine at 123 percent ABV contains approximately 160 calories.
Voss, a specially packaged Norwegian product enjoys a reputation of being the purest in the world, but the world’s most popular is Evian from France.
Europeans long ago discovered the health giving properties of mineral waters, and they even have water cure regimens in spas paid for by government health insurance plans. Back in 1654, the court physician of Versaille presented a bottle of Chatledon from Auvergne to Louis XIV to cure his gout and other assorted illnesses largely attributed to gourmandise and gluttony.
France has a number of branded water. Evian, Perrier, Vichy, Badoit, Vittel, Chatledon and Volvic are the most famous. In Italy the following enjoy popularity – San Pellegrino, San Gimignano, Ferarelle, Aqua Panna, Lurisia and Fiuggi. Germany boasts Gerolsteiner, Appolinaris, Bad Reichenhaller and Fuerst Boeckelheimer. There are only a few large marketing and distribution companies controlling the lion’s share of the North American branded bottled water distribution - Danon International and Nestle are the biggest.
Danon markets Evian, Volvic, Ferarelle, Crystal Springs, Badoit and Naya. Nestle represents San Pellegrino, Perrier, Aqua Panna, Calistoga, Arrowhead, Deer Park, Zephyrills Buxton, Poland Spring and Vittel.
At least one Canadian company is marketing iceberg water, and many in Quebec commercialise propriety brands, although Blue Moon water for Manitoba, and Whistler Pure Glacial Spring water have won awards in US organized competitions. Most are at best regionally distributed and never nationally mostly due to costly distribution and warehousing.
In 2003, after a little more than three decades bottled water processors and distributors are happily counting their profits and know there is much more to be made if only they could persuade every citizen to consume nothing but bottled water.
Astute restaurateurs are happy to serve bottled water and conveniently forget to serve ice water. They know how to maximize profits.
Can you blame them?
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu