Thursday, October 6, 2016

Sophie Elmhirst - Liquid assets: how the business of bottled water went mad

How did a substance that falls from the air, springs from the earth and comes out of your tap become a hyperactive multibillion-dollar business?

Over the past two decades, bottled water has become the fastest-growing drinks market in the world. The global market was valued at $157 bn in 2013, and is expected to reach $280 bn by 2020.

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..


2016 could perhaps be defined as the year the market lost its mind. There now seems to be no limit on what a water can be, or what consumers are willing to buy. It is no longer enough for water to simply be water: it must have special powers... Coca-Cola’s new water is called Glacéau Smartwater. The water, which comes from a spring in Morpeth, Northumberland, is “vapour distilled”, then injected with electrolytes. In other words, the water is evaporated and then condensed again, a process Coca-Cola describes as being “inspired by the clouds”. Ten years ago, this, surely, would have got the Peckham Spring treatment from the media. But we live in new times. 

The dress code of the clientele in Planet Organic, Notting Hill is gym chic. On a hot day in mid-August, the men wore mid-thigh shorts, pectoral-enhancing vests, neon Nikes; the women were in black leggings and intricate ensembles of sports bras and cross-strapped Lycra. They had all either just worked out, were about to work out, or wanted to look as if working out was a constant possibility.

They examined the shelves. As well as the usual selection of kale crackers and paleo egg protein boosters, there were promises of wizardry, such as a packet of Alchemy Organic Super Blend Energy Elixir (£40 for 300g of powder). But never mind the food. Life, in 2016, is liquid. Opposite a display of untouched pastries and assorted bread products (who, in Planet Organic in Notting Hill, still eats bread?), were the waters.

There was Life, Volvic, Ugly, Sibberi (birch or maple), Plenish, What A Melon watermelon water, Vita Coco, Coco Pro, Coco Zumi, Chi 100% Pure Coconut Water, Rebel Kitchen Coconut Water and coconut water straight from the nut (“you have to make the hole yourself”, explained a shop assistant). Also: an electrolyte-enhanced water pledging to hydrate you with 40% less fluid than ordinary water (Overly Fitness), a birch water offering “a natural source of anti-oxidising manganese” (Tapped) and an alternative birch water promising to “eliminate cellulite” (Buddha). There was also a “water bar” – a tap in the corner of the shop – that, according to the large sign hanging from the ceiling, offered, for free, the “cleanest drinking water on the planet”, thanks to a four-stage process conducted by a “reverse osmosis deionising water filter”.

Planet Organic’s display was impressive, but only hinted at the full range of waters available to the hydration-conscious consumer. Right now, the global bottled water industry is in one of those strange and energetic boom phases where every week, it seems, a new product finds its way on to the shelves. Not just another bland still or sparkling, but some entirely new definition of the element. 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. 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.

And it’s working. Over the past two decades, bottled water has become the fastest-growing drinks market in the world. The global market was valued at $157bn in 2013, and is expected to reach $280bn by 2020. Last year, in the UK alone, consumption of water drinks grew by 8.2%, equating to a retail value of more than £2.5bn. Sales of water are 100 times higher than in 1980. Of water: a substance that, in developed countries, can be drunk for free from a tap without fear of contracting cholera. What is going on?...Read more:
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/oct/06/liquid-assets-how--business-bottled-water-went-mad