Issues & Perspectives on Bottled Water
by Michael Mascha, Water Editor
Could it be that there are two different kinds of bottled water?
As an authority on bottled water, I get a lot of email from around the world. About 98 percent of the emails fall into the category of information requests, general enquiries and encouragements for my mission. And then there are the other two percent. Many of them are hostile, accusing me of promoting and prolonging the bottled water fraud. The tenor of the mail is, “Why should I pay for bottled water if it’s just tap water?”
I dismissed those email for the longest time until I began to ask myself: Could there be two different kinds of bottled water?
It recently occurred to me that the answer is yes. There is Bottled Water and Bottled Water. This creates confusion for some consumers. Let me try to shine some light on the significant differences between the two.
The emphasis in this type of water is not on water, but on the fact that it is bottled. A key is the convenience of buying water in a bottle on the go at the gas station or the airport. You are thirsty and want to drink some water. You could use the water fountain, but clever and sometimes deceptive marketing and PR campaigns have convinced you that it is healthier to buy a bottle of water.
Do you care where the water is coming from?
You should. According to government and industry estimates, between 25% to 40% of bottled water sold in the U.S. is actually bottled tap water. FDA rules allow bottlers to call their product “spring water” even though it may be brought to the surface using a pumped well, and it may be treated with chemicals. The actual source of water is not always made clear: some bottled water marketing is misleading, implying the water comes from pristine sources when it does not. In 1995, the FDA issued labeling rules to prevent misleading claims. While the rules do prohibit some of the most deceptive labeling practices, they have not eliminated the problem.
This makes Bottled Water a commodity and by definition, a commodity that disguises its origin. The only appeal is the convenience of having it in a portable bottle. Unfortunately, this is the type of water that occupies most of the shelf space in supermarkets, as these brands are owned by large corporations and have vast marketing power behind them. Now I can understand why two percent of the people who email me are angry. I would be too, if I purchased “spring water” and discovered it was tap water.
There are bottlers who care deeply about the source of their water. They are proud of delivering natural bottled water and are obsessed with protecting the source. I know this, because I talk to them every day. They are U.S. or international companies and individuals. In some instances these are new companies and in some instances the water from those sources has been used for more then 2000 years. These companies produce and sell Bottled Water and the emphasis is on the water.
These naturally bottled waters are very special and express their terroir*. They are bottled at the source, treated as little as possible, and in some instances they are naturally carbonated. All these waters have a unique composition of minerals, based on their particular journey through the earth. Some of the waters have been on earth for 30 days, some for 20,000 years. Many have long been associated with curative powers due to a unique composition of minerals and trace elements.
* The term terroir (the French word for soil) refers to having a taste of the earth or soil. It describes the characteristic aromas and flavors of wine from grapes grown in a particular vineyard or region, incorporating the contributions of both soil and climate to a unique style. More broadly, the term is used to describe the characteristic aromas and flavors that any organic product takes on from its growing region.
These waters and their sources are truly special. The bottle is just a means of getting the water to the consumer.
So if it makes a difference to you, the next time you buy bottled water, check if it is Bottled Water or Bottled Water.
Due to the fractured bottled water distribution system in the U.S., a handful of brands occupy most of the store shelf space or restaurant choices. Many fine naturally bottled waters are difficult to find. It will require a demand by consumers to bring more of these fine waters to the forefront. We look forward to doing our part to change the system.
To learn more about Michael Mascha’s favorite waters, visit FineWaters.com.