Why people buy bottled water: How a perceived joke from the 1970's has become the largest sector of today's beverage industry. Take something that is readily available, that most everybody already has, find a creative way to package and market it, and sell it to the masses at a thousand times its cost.
Unfortunately, the joke is really on the consumer because they already had plenty of it and it costs them virtually nothing. But somehow we have been conditioned into going to our local market and buying lots of it, usually in cumbersome and awkward containers, or many smaller ones, and then have the burden of lifting and carrying those containers home, storing them, discarding, and sorting them - the works. And all for something most of us already have at arms reach.
In 2015 bottled water in the US alone was a $15+ BILLION industry, and it all started 40 years ago with a sparkling water from France. In 1977, Perrier’s target audience and approach to marketing were different than we see today. Perrier® caught the beverage industry behemoths’ attention with their effervescent mineral beverage in a big way.
This new fashionable drink entranced the imagination of the public. The slightly carbonated Perrier wasn’t a direct comparison to water from your tap, because of its unique qualities. It was more.
Unlike today’s bottled water, you knew the source of Perrier. They made sure you knew it came direct to you from Vergèze, located in the Gard département, Southern France. Their green glass bottle, shaped like a perfect water drop was distinct. All these factors gave Perrier an elegant, different, one-of-a-kind appeal, positioning this naturally carbonated drink as the “Champagne of mineral water."
Packaged in more expensive glass bottles, Perrier was segmented and target marketed to young professionals. Their brand wasn’t about health, purity, or contaminated aquifers. It was a status symbol. "Look at me, and look at what I’m drinking." It was about the lifestyle.
The growth of Perrier helped spark the beginning market trend for the “health conscious consumer.” It didn't take long for the beverage giants, namely Coke® and Pepsi® to take notice. The increase in that market sector also caught the eye of food conglomerate, Nestle®. These three giants pulled off what many call the "Marketing trick of the century."
The marketing dollars that began to flow into the bottled water industry make it seem like it all started in the late 1980’s. But in reality, the beverage conglomerates have capitalized on a rich history of bottling water, going back for centuries. People have been going to the mountains and filling their bottles since the beginning of time. Before the 1980’s bottled water was a treat or something the elite enjoyed exclusively.
1844 - The POLAND SPRING® story began when summer visitors vacationed at a family Inn in Maine and wanted to return home with the 100% natural glacier spring water from their trip, that they referred to as wonder tonic.
1863 - PERRIER® first bottled by decree of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte III "for the good of France.”
1873 - DEER PARK® Brand's 100% natural spring water got its start near the crest of the Appalachians, where travelers, including President Taft, came from all over to enjoy its great taste.
Each of their stories touts their long histories as they showed the elite enjoying their refreshing, pure water.
Later, as big business saw the massive sales potential, they bought up many of the smaller boutique water companies, along with their water rights and sources.
More about that in > Part II- “Marketing Trick of the Century”
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Learn more here:
- Forbes > Bottled Water Is A Potential Growth Category That Can't Be Ignored
- BBC > Bottled water has become liquid gold
- Industry Insider > Bottled water is the new smoking — and the industry is starting to face a backlash
- Bottlemania > How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought it
- NPR > Why Americans Are Obsessed With Bottled Water - The author of 'Bottlemania' addresses the country's addiction to bottled water and its environmental costs.
- Nestle Waters > Bottled Water History - See how their bottled water got its start, and how it has grown throughout the years.
Professor Szasz gave an engaging guest lecture in Anthro 4 about his recent book, "Shopping Our Way to Safety. It's about the American belief that we can consume our way to safety by purchasing "pure" products and creating what Errington calls "the gated community of the body." Click here for more.