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The story of an intrepid North European travelling all over the continent in order to taste the waters of a number of famous villages is unusually remarkable. When he came to the plain of Sevilla, Spain, with the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background, and stopped in Granada to visit Alhambra, he was astounded to see how crystal clear water was engineered to gush through manicured gardens.

     The Moors who had designed and created Alhambra were expelled long ago but their brilliant water works still today draw millions of visitors to this important sight.

Arabs have always known the importance of water and revered it! Water was and remains sacred to them!

     Pindar, a Greek lyric poet  (518 – 438 B C), wrote: “Water is the noblest element.” It is true without water there be no life. In fact 70 – 75 percent of the human body consist of water.

     Although the importance of water has been clear to Europeans and all peoples of the Middle East, North Americans have taken water, clean potable water, for granted ever since the first settlers set foot on the continent. The water was pure and abundant. Settlers used it indiscriminately, and as the population grew and industrial development started consumption grew exponentially.

     Long ago, Americans realized that eventually the country will run short of water, particularly California, where agriculture and industry use the lion’s share of underground water. They have been trying to convince Canadians to export it in bulk but so far successive governments resisted the temptation and it is hoped that future politicians will follow this sound policy.

     Canada is said to have jurisdiction over 20 percent of world’s fresh water supply, but the truth is much of it is now contaminated due to poor municipal water management as recent tragic events in Ontario and other provinces have proven. Also, security around water treatment plants lacks shockingly!

     All this convinced young and middle aged people to switch to mineral water, or at least pure spring water. This change created a still booming bottled water industry!

     Perrier, a huge French conglomerate, was the first off the mark, and started to promote mineral water in restaurants and hotels. Actually, Perrier is pure spring water, but most people think it mineral water. Up to then restaurant guests expected and received  iced tap water almost immediately after they were seated. It is free, but restaurant owners must spend money to serve water. When Perrier started promoting mineral water, many restaurateurs quickly realized how big a revenue source they had on their hands and immediately embarked upon the bonanza!

     Today in most fine restaurants you have to ask for tap water, otherwise servers will try to sell you a bottle of mineral water.

     Europeans have been consuming mineral and spring water for over a century now, since they know that regular tap water contains impurities and chemicals that can lead to health problems. It is said that the water of the Rhine River bisecting Germany as it flows from Switzerland to the Netherlands, is consumed seven times over.

     Over the past thee decades, bottles and mineral water consumption in Canada increased astronomically. Today the industry sells well over 300 million cases of water.

     There is a distinction to be made between bottled water, mineral water and carbonated water. Different jurisdictions define mineral water differently. In Canada, mineral water must contain 2000 parts per million mineral salts. Spring water originates from a natural source deep in the earth. It may be still or naturally carbonated. 

     Bottled water can be purified, distilled, filtered, or natural spring and may be filled far away from the source. In many jurisdictions, spring water must be bottled at the source.

Carbonated water may occur naturally, but bottlers can add carbon dioxide to make up what nature missed.

Bottle sizes vary anywhere from 250 ml to two litres.

     For single servings, 250 or 330 ml bottles are preferred, whereas for parties of four or more, large sizes come in handy. Carbonated water tends to cause bloating and guests generally consume less food than they would otherwise. Experienced restaurateurs serve plain bottled or mineral waters.

     When it comes to selection, several factors must be taken into consideration. All mineral waters possess a distinct flavour. Some are more appealing than others, regardless of their therapeutic value. It is best to select a relatively neutral or pleasant tasting mineral water and remember still waters generate more revenue. Small servings have proven to be more profitable.

     Like everything else, pricing must be reasonable and guests should feel happy with value received. In some restaurants bottled water is sold at such outrageous prices that patrons decide to patronize other establishments.

     Perrier, San Pellegrino, Evian, Ramlosa are the better known brands in Canada but there are many others equally appealing, although less effectively marketed,

Radenska, Vittel, Volvic, Henniez, Appolinaris, Gerolsteiner, Fuerst Bismark, Jordanska, Luso, Naya, Jermuk, Fiuggi are just a few that come to mind. Aquafina and Dasani, two popular brands, are filtered well packaged and marketed tap water.

     Most Canadian spring water bottling plants are in Ontario and Quebec, although Alberta and British Columbia have also a few. They generally concentrate their marketing efforts to west of Manitoba.

     Lime, orange, and lemon flavoured spring waters have become quite popular in the past decade, a trend started by Perrier and duplicated by San Pellegrino and others.

The mineral and spring water market is likely to grow appreciably in the coming years as the public’s confidence in tap water, practically everywhere, has vanished.

Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu

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