The quest for purity in the U.S. water market
The U.S. and Mexico accounted for 26.6% of the world’s packaged water market in 2012. Most of the brands that lead in this category in North America, however, originate from Europe, with FIJI the only major exception. Europe has three of the world’s biggest and most established markets: Italy, Germany and France.
Bottled water is the second largest commercial beverage category by volume in the U.S. and the global bottled water market is expected to be worth $279.65 billion in 2020 in response to steadily increasing consumer demand.
The market for imported bottled water in the U.S. is niche, accounting for only 1.5% of the U.S. non-alcohol beverage market. Apart from FIJI water, all imported bottled water brands are European, including Evian and Icelandic Glacial. These brands dominate the premium bottled water market.
Recent marketing strategy for these brands has emphasised packaging in order to make them visually distinct and increase their appeal to American audiences.
The health-consciousness of American consumers will be key in positioning Himalayan water in the American market.
Following the rise of the ‘Alkaline Diet’ movement, interest has grown in alkaline water and its potential health benefits. This is a theory that drinking high alkaline water (water with a pH level between 7.0 and 10) can boost metabolic rate and help neutralize excess acid in the body. The pH level of Evian is 7.2, FIJI is 7.9, and Icelandic Glacial is 8.4
Icelandic Glacial has a higher than normal pH compared with other premium bottled waters in the U.S. (see illustration). This is now a key selling point, marketed on their website as a ‘highly desirable, uncommonly elevated and naturally occurring alkaline pH level of 8.4’.
The best premium water brands have improved their environmental credentials and are now promoted as environmentally aware. Evian and Icelandic Glacial claim carbon neutral status and work hard to demonstrate commitment to environmental issues. Icelandic Glacial uses 100% recyclable bottles made with renewable energy.
They also ship using surplus hold space on vessels for the U.S. and Europe, drastically reducing their carbon footprint. Evian’s Water Protection Institute facilitates water management in developing countries.
FIJI’S initial success was damaged when its environmental credentials were questioned. FIJI’s production plant runs 24 hours a day on diesel so its carbon footprint is heavy.
Evidence is growing in the U.S. that fracking and GMO agribusiness are damaging ecosystems and contaminating water sources. This has made affluent consumers more receptive to the messaging of bottled-water brands whose product has a natural source far from the environmental hazards of North America.
‘Purity’ is a focus of many marketing campaigns for imported water, with Evian promoted as ‘the essence of purity,’ Icelandic Glacial referencing ‘exceptional purity’ and VOSS marketing itself as ‘one of the purest bottled waters available’.
Another element to consider is the use of plastic bottles. Many studies have shown that water from plastic bottles which contain chemicals such as BPA and phthalates can be linked to a number of diseases and illnesses, including asthma, ADHD, breast cancer, and obesity.
Using an alternative to plastics could differentiate Himalayan in the U.S. marketplace. VOSS is bottled in glass. Another option is ‘CanO Water’, a resealable aluminium can that can be reused indefinitely. There are also other materials such as PLA, corn based and biodegradable plastic. This is used in the U.K. to market Belu water, cited in the media as the ‘UK’s most ethical’ bottled water.
Purity has become the top selling property of bottled water in the U.S. market. Consumers search for purity in all aspects of daily life, seeking a simplified and natural way of existence. The quest for truly pure water is paradoxical in essence as ‘pure’ water (in the most scientific sense) is toxic and can disturb the balance of electrolytes in the body, resulting in serious injury and even death. Despite this, consumers are willing to pay extra for this guarantee or promise of ‘purity’, even though the reality might be that their water is not really as pure as they think.