Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How Sexy is Bottled Water?

When the doctor advised, “Eight glasses of water a day,” did you retort, “Right, but what kind of water?” Didn’t think so.
However, that is just the question I’ve found myself pondering. Apparently “water” alone won’t suffice. Worse, I find myself standing idly in stores, gawking into the beverage fridge considering every option of H2O the world has so conveniently afforded me.
Minerals? Sure, why not. Filtered? Oh, definitely want that. Electrolytes? Now you’re talking!
Despite living in NYC with some of the tastiest tap water, I’m still all about paying $3+tax for mine to come in a bottle—and I’m hardly alone. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, U.S. consumption of bottled water increased from 2010-2011 by 4.1% to over 9 billion gallons gulped
Silly? Let me offer a theory.
Besides the appeal of portable, clean, consistent tasting water, what if your branded bottle said something about you? Aren’t all brands social status cues? Could water be that sexy? Which does the Dos Equis man prefer the next morning?
Most claim their preference revolves around price and taste. Some mention eco-friendliness, additives, personal sentiment or availability as factors—others simply scoff at the concept of bottled water entirely.
But, ridiculous inventions like Bling H20 aside, pricing is relatively comparable—about $1-2 per 500ml. I also have doubts about most people’s ability to discern water’s gustative qualities.
To test this, I had 12 of my coworkers participate in a blind taste test. Each wrote their current favorite brand, then blindly sampled and rated eight popular bottled water brands from 1-5. While purely anecdotal, the most favorite brands (pre-tasting) were Poland Spring and Evian, with 5 and 3 people preferring them, respectively. The highest taste ratings were Volvic and Poland Spring, averaging 3.75 and 3.66, while the lowest ratings were Voss and Evian, averaging 2.66 and 2.5, respectively.
Apparently taste matters. While rationales didn’t indicate a trend, people knew what they did and didn’t like. Why Volvic, then? What’s so great about French volcanoes? And Evian! Are you better cold? Poland Spring—crowd favorite, second-best taste rating, ubiquitous, homegrown story, cheapest at $1—you, I get.
Still, for me, the water itself is an afterthought. Yeah, it better be clear and without funky aftertastes. If you can make me think I’m restoring my body’s “vital minerals & nutrients” or saving the planet, praise be to you.
It’s the bottle that I find so satisfying—and at times, equally unnerving.
Why do I prefer Fiji? Frankly, the bottle looks cool and feels sturdy. Its “iconic square” form stands out and uses clever graphic placement to create dimension—like you’ve got a small window into Fiji. Though perhaps less eco-friendly with thicker plastic, it doesn’t sound like someone’s trying to get the last chip in the bag when you go for a sip (sorry Poland Spring, your crinkly “eco-slim” bottle makes me cringe). The brand also connotes “premium” without the pretention (sorry Evian and Voss). Fiji’s what I want on my nightstand.
And, I argue that the bottle matters to you too—just as much as your choice of glasses, handbag or jeans.
So, while you reflect, I ask that you pose one question to yourself: “Who am I trying to impress?”

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