Sexing Up Water

Jun 12, 2007

The news must have hit the water industry like a neutron bomb. Two University of Pennsylvania professors, Dr. Stanley Goldfarb and Dr. Dan Negoianu, reviewed scientific literature on the health effects of drinking lots of water. And while they could find no harm in drinking those eight, eight-ounce (225 ml) glasses of water each day, they also found zero benefit in doing so.

Their scientific review, to be published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, found that guzzling water to “flood toxins” out of one’s system was not supported by any scientific study. And as far as improving skin tone that’s “probably folklore,” Goldfarb said.

“The kidneys clear toxins. This is what the kidneys do. They do it very effectively. And they do it independently of how much water you take in. When you take in a lot of water, all you do is put out more urine but not more toxins in the urine,” Goldfarb noted.

SoBe WaterSoBe’s Life Water is one in a wave of “multi-functional” waters that promise to do more than just quench thirst. Life Water is enhanced with vitamins designed to “shield” or “enlighten” life.

While that’s not good news for the bottled water business, the study is not likely to halt industry momentum. The U.S. bottled water business grew 800% in the past 20 years, reaching $9 billion a year and zipping from virtually nowhere to the No. 2 U.S. beverage, behind soft drinks. At its current pace, bottled water will surpass soft drinks in the next 10 to 15 years, predicts Beverage Marketing.

In fact, bottled water is the U.S.’ fastest-growing “refreshment beverage,” says the research firm, with 2006 bottled water consumption increasing 9.5% from the year before. Beverage Marketing predicts that by 2011, bottled water’s share of the liquid refreshment beverage market will be 29% — while soda — which currently holds about 42% — will dwindle to 34% that year.

There’s room for growth. American bottled water companies spent about $58 million advertising bottled water in 2005. Compare that to the $1.5 billion beer makers spend annually to promote that other urinary accelerator. According to Dr. Michael Mascha, author of Fine Waters, Americans drank 18 gallons (68 liters) of bottled water in 2005, compared with 50 gallons (190 liters) for the average Italian.

Yet Italians, the world’s biggest consumer of bottled water, drank only 6% of their water away from the table. By contrast, 35% of American bottled water consumption is on the run, befitting a more time-compressed society.

Proving that sex and money can sell anything, the water business now boasts two newcomers who are trying to crush all pricing logic. Boasting a $20 price tag, Beverly Hills-based Bling H2O was created by Hollywood producer Kevin Boyd to “exemplify popular culture.” Judging from the company’s marketing, see main image, Bling H2O is directly aimed at the same profligate Generation Yers, who think nothing of spending $10 on a cosmo.

But Boyd is not alone in the water stratosphere. Hailing from Japan, Fillico wants you to spend $100 on its filigreed water, but you do get a bottle made of frosted glass with gold paint and Swarovski crystal accents. And perennial water uberbrand, Evian, is launching a $50 bottle, designed by French designer Christrian Lacroix.

Fillico waterTwenty bucks for a bottle of water? Why spend so little when you can drink water that befits your royal class? Japan-based Fillico has a $100 bottle of water for you. At least they’re made with “Swarovski crystal accents.”

But another trend may become a water stopper. Americans drank 31.2 billion liters of water in 2007. The Pacific Institute, an Oakland, Calif.-based think tank estimates that it takes 17 million barrels of oil to package and transport all this water. This “carbon footprint” is bottled water’s biggest growth challenge.

The forces against bottled water are coalescing behind a “tappening” movement, a rising chorus that urges consumers to drink tap water. Already some restaurants, like Berkeley, Calif.’s Chez Panisse, now only serve tap water. Meanwhile, New York City has kicked off a campaign to promote its tap water, with three other U.S. cities joining in.

Across the pond, Ministers and the UK’s biggest water provider, Thames Water, are trying to burst our water “snobbery” bubble by urging restaurants and cafés to serve free tap water to customers.

The industry’s salvation may lie in multi-functional water. Like its target audience, this type of “infused” water does many things at once. One company, BORBA, says its water is enhanced by “nanotechnology,” with formulations designed for dry skin or adult acne.

If the industry wants to survive potential growth pains, it will have to come up with plausible research on the benefits of drinking “enhanced” waters, because somewhere some researcher or sustainability group is ready to drop yet another water bomb.