Consumer Mistrust Is the Message in the Bottle

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For the first time ever, sales of bottled water exceeded soda in 2016, with a total of 49.4 billion bottles sold in the US. According to the New York Times, that means that Americans drank almost 12 billion gallons of bottled water last year, or more than 36 gallons per person.

And we paid dearly for the hydration. Studies show that bottled water costs around 2,000 times more than drinking water from the tap. Why are Americans spending so much money on a product that’s already delivered to their doorstep?

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Whether bubbly, flat, flavored, filtered, or electrolyte-enhanced, bottled water is a thriving marketand one fueled by both extensive marketing campaigns and water safety concerns. According to Money magazine, the largest US bottled water companiesNestle Water, Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepperindicate that cases of lead contamination in Flint, Michigan, Washington, DC, and New Jersey have boosted water sales by raising concern about the quality of tap water and focusing the nation’s attention on its decaying pipes.

In fact, consumer surveys show that many citizens don’t feel that they have a choice besides purchasing bottled water. Boil notices and contamination events have led them to fear the water that comes out of their taps. And consumers often believe that bottled water is free of microorganisms, even though research indicates that the process of bottling water and storing it on market shelves can actually facilitate microbial growth. “People feeling unsafe about their drinking water clearly leads them to drink it out of a bottle,” Ali Dibadj, a consumer analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., told Bloomberg. The message in the bottle is one of mistrust.

How can the industry go about regaining consumer trust? At the 2016 OneWater Summit in Atlanta last June, Radhika Fox, CEO of the US Water Alliance, touched on the subject during her keynote presentation. She invited industry members to demonstrate confidence by drinking tap water themselves. Others advocated reminding the public that tap water is regulated and tested, and encouraging water customers to review their utility’s Consumer Confidence Report.

Since then, journalists have also voiced the detriments of bottled water, including the extensive environmental costs, in an array of news stories. Making plastic water bottles results in carbon emissions and uses about 17 million barrels of oil annually according to Ecology.com. One interactive article by Tatiana Schlossberg (formatted as a quiz) about plastic water bottle usage is especially effective in revealing staggering statistics about our plastic habit and its effects on the planet.

Globally, people spend around $100 billion a year on bottled water. Americans account for well over half of that. It’s time for water professionals to look at what the popularity of bottled water telling us. What steps do you suggest that the industry takes in order to regain consumer trust? WE_bug_web

 

Comments
  • The water industry needs to invest in public relations and marketing to get the word out on their industry. Take 2% form each project and use that for education.

    Reply
  • To move this issue forward, one should concentrate on the contribution to climate change that the bottled water habit exhibits. Also, focus on the pollution. Plastic, which does not degrade very rapidly, is a waste of a non-renewable rescource, is filling our oceans and harming aquatic life. It is also unsightly trash litering our cities, roads, and rural communities. Also, the microbial growth happening on the shelves inside the plastic bottles would go a long way to make people think twice about buying the case of bottles, or invest in a filter/purifier for their sink.

    Reply
  • Strange but the problem is not whether it comes from the tap or bottled or sodas they all contain Pharmaceuticals-OTC Medications-Vitamins. The industry needs to work on this problem as the word is about to be launched as to what is really in the water.

    Reply
  • This issue is compounded by the antiquated water quality standards that fail to adequately detail pathogens and are based on failing indicator tests. These indicator tests throw false negatives and the water may be “legal” but hardly safe.
    In communications with others, I brought out the warning from the USEPA toxicologist discussing the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) during the 2006 Environmental Law Conference at Yosemite. The toxicologist concluded his paper with the following: “Bottom line on almost all of the ‘emerging’ contaminants that have attracted attention: It will be a long time, if ever, before they are regulated under the and legislative bodies and potential consequent impacts on public health.
    Sewer plants discharge effluent into the drinking water resource base for much of the nation. Sewer plants generate antibiotic resistant microbes whose genes are about 10 times more resistant to destruction than microbes . Thus, when water passes the quality tests, generally using MPN, low counts of indicators may show nothing about genes and other pathogens. Then there are materials and residues that carry over into drinking water and the impact on mitochondrial function. This discussion on impacts to the mitochondria by the various pollutants, be they in their parent form or daughter products from treatment processes represent an unknown but potentially troubling load on the immune and metabolic. The public is quite correct to worry, not withstanding attempts to use PR to induce public calmness.

    Dr Edo McGowan

    Reply

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