business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Washington Post reports this morning on the bottled water marketing phenomenon, noting that “the bottled-water industry is engaged in an intense effort to convince Americans that the stuff in bottles is substantially different from the stuff out of the tap.

“But empirical tests have repeatedly shown that they are generally the same. In blind taste tests, many people who swear they can differentiate between bottled-water brands and tap water fail to spot the differences, and studies have shown that both are fine to drink, and both occasionally can have quality problems.”

And, the Post writes, “There is abundant irony in such marketing: The supply of clean drinking water across America and in many other countries is an underappreciated scientific and technological achievement that in many ways rivals putting a man on the moon. Trillions of dollars have been spent to get clean drinking water to people at virtually no cost -- and it is people in precisely these countries who seem willing to pay premiums of 1,000 percent to 10,000 percent for bottled water.

“As the wealthiest billion people on the planet increasingly turn to bottled water, moreover, the poorest billion have no little or access to clean water.”

And there are additional ironies. For example, in Fiji the bottled water business helps to fund efforts to develop an infrastructure that will bring better quality water to local residents. In many American cities, however, consumer preferences for bottled water over the tap variety means that confidence has been eroded in the local infrastructure that puts free water into the pipes.

KC's View: