There’s no business like l’eau business, but is it all just an expensive con?
As more bottled water comes on the market, can anyone tell the difference?
A time comes in the life of any product that it goes from being naff, to being promoted by a Beckham. Last week a story emerged – was it leaked, perhaps? – that David B, the model and sometime footballer, is to launch his own brand of H2O.
We’ve never really been that comfortable with bottled water in this country. The suspicion is so deep that perhaps even Becks can’t help us fall in love with it.
When we Brits first encountered this strange phenomenon of water in bottles, mainly on holidays, it was considered an extraordinary and inexplicable foreign excess, a perception that was not helped by the immortal sight of Del Boy and Rodney Trotter sticking Peckham tap water into bottles and flogging it as posh mineral water. The joke was that nobody could tell the difference.
The industry has never quite recovered from this blow. When Coca-Cola tried to launch a water called Dasani a few years ago, it was pulled after it turned out to be “treated” tap-water.
For many of us, the act of buying bottled water is a confusing one, accompanied by a little inner voice whispering that – in the same way that tea comes from bags and not leaves – water comes from taps, not bottles.
In recent times, the green movement has slammed bottled water as environmentally unfriendly, and there is a movement to make restaurants offer tap as a matter of course.
So, is bottled water a good thing, or a marketing con? Two of our writers have their say.
It’s true that the image of bottled water has been tarnished by the cheesier end of the market. All these waters that are flavoured by somebody wafting a piece of lavender in its general direction, or even – heaven help us – “low-calorie” water.
Actually, the top end too can be a bit dodgy. Water taken from glaciers, for example. Shouldn’t we just let glaciers be at this point in time? The idea of some bloke on a step-ladder blowtorching water off the Arctic shelf to sell in Michelin starred restaurants is not a pleasant one.
The stuff that is dredged from the bottom of the Pacific ocean and sold for £70 a bottle sounds silly to me too, and water from Tasmania – not a place famed for its damp climate – suggests a bloke in a tin shack in the outback collecting rainwater in a rusty bucket.
But every industry has its silly sides for silly people. The bottled water industry also has the side that is sitting in a café in the sun in a graceful European city and jumbling nice, big chunky ice-cubes in a conical glass filled with lovely, fizzy, cooling, refreshing water.
Those French mineral waters even have sexy bottles, think of the bulbous Perrier one, like one of those fat-bottomed fertility goddesses.
Okay, I’m getting carried away. But with bottled water, whether it’s cool or crummy depends, as with so many things, on how you look at it. The British hatred of bottled water is at its heart a puritanical hatred of slightly frivolous things. And I like frivolous things. Fizzy water: it’s champagne for teetotallers.
The pro-tap water brigade is strong and vocal these days. Thing is, they tend to be newcomers to the battleground, simply jumping on the “save the environment” bandwagon. Well, my reasons for supporting tap and shunning the bottle have little to do with altruism and nothing to do with an above average eco-conscience. Nope, my beef with bottled water is simply that it is a massive, massive rip-off and those that go in for it are diabolical fakers.
A blind tasting of chilled London tap water (filter it if you wish, though our city’s pipes spew forth a rival to any mountain spring), alongside one of the ludicrously “sourced” waters appearing on our menus would surely confuse tasters. But even if a particularly sensitive water-sampler managed to tell the difference between a sip of chilled London tap and a gulp of Volvic (could someone be more boring?), they’d be stumped as soon as tap was taken out of the equation. Princes Gate or Vittel? Belu or Hildon? Iceni or Malvern? British or French? Croatian or Welsh? Give me a break.
But then, what do I know? Apparently, some diners are so discerning they need a whole water list. Renaud Gregoire, food and beverage director at Claridge’s, which offers a menu with 30 types from places as far flung as Newfoundland icebergs, the Nilgiris Mountains in India and New Zealand volcanoes, said last year that “water is becoming like wine. Every guest has an opinion and asks for a particular brand.”
Water like wine? What are people playing at? The very essence of wine is nuance and variety; the essence of water is simplicity.
Good wine should speak volumes; all good water should do is be clean and be there. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a bore and a pseud. Then again, they’re the ones spending the cash on – quite literally – nothing.