12 Nov 2016

Water, water, everywhere: the global thirst for bottled water

From This Way Up, 12:50 pm on 12 November 2016

"Water is no longer simply water - it has become a commercial blank slate, a word on to which any possible ingredient or fantastical, life-enhancing promise can be attached." Sophie Elmhirst in The Guardian

Bottled Water

Bottled Water Photo: (Flickr user Steven Depolo CC BY 2.0)

Sophie Elmhirst

Photo: (Supplied)

Birch water, canned water, electrolyte-enhanced water, water marketed at children...the global market for humble H20 is booming. And even if you aren't all that thirsty the marketers are making sure there's a water to suit every lifestyle, and hydrate the inner You. 

"It is a case of capitalism at its most hyperactive and brazenly inventive: take a freely available substance, dress it up in countless different costumes and then sell it as something new and capable of transforming body, mind, soul."

According to journalist Sophie Elmhirst, bottled water has become the fastest growing drinks market in the world. World wide sales already total more than NZ$200 billion, and are predicted to hit nearly NZ$400 billion by 2020.

After water chlorination became widespread in the early 20th century, attempts to sell us water faced a major hurdle. As Sophie Elmhirst explained, "Why would you continue to spend money on something that now came, miraculously, out of a tap in your kitchen? The answer arrived in 1977, in the form of what must be one of history's greatest pieces of television advertising narration...The advert was part of a $5m campaign across America - the largest ever for a bottled water - and proved a major success. From 1975 to 1978, Perrier sales in the US increased from 2.5m bottles to more than 75m bottles."