Food Forum: A trip to the local watering hole

Domestic bottled water offers a close-to-home option that appeals to eco-conscious consumers and retailers.

By P. Allen Smith

We are in the middle of another long hot summer and as delicious as a glass of lemonade or sweet tea sounds, there is nothing more refreshing than an ice-cold bottle of water.

In 2009, Americans drank more than 27 gallons of bottled water per person, according to New York-based Beverage Marketing Corp. That is an 11-gallon increase per person over 10 years, which is impressive given that the numbers peaked in 2007 at 29 gallons per person before dipping slightly due to the economic crisis.

There are two main types of bottled water—spring water and purified water. There has been a lot of debate about the source of the latter. Bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, which defines purified water as that which has been produced by distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis or other suitable processes that meet the definition of purified water set by the U.S. Pharmacopeia. While all of this sounds like a mouthful, what it boils down to is that although some bottled purified waters are derived from municipal water sources they are not simply tap water in a bottle.

Although consumers have certainly gotten better at reading labels, they are not necessarily reading the labels on bottled water. Labels on purified bottle water clearly state that the water has been enhanced in some way with minerals, perhaps to create a certain taste or flavor. If the water is sourced from a public water supply, the location will be indicated.

The alternative to purified water is spring water, which is defined as “water derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the surface of the earth.” The water must be collected only at the spring or through a borehole tapping the underground formation feeding the spring. Spring waters are popular both for their taste and health benefits, boasting minerals such as calcium carbonate, iron, magnesium, sulfate and other trace elements.

Foodies and natural/organic consumers are willing to pay more for bottled water that tastes good and is good for them and the environment. While spring water from an exotic locale may be the primary selling point for a few, most consumers will be happy to find a domestic water that pleases their palate without the international shipping costs and huge carbon footprint. Retailers who stock a domestic bottled spring water appeal to customers’ desire for a healthy, earth-friendly beverage.

By stocking domestic spring water, retailers can cut shipping costs considerably, which will, in turn, reduce their carbon footprint. And with all of the emphasis on local foods these days and how it relates to our carbon footprint, promoting a local water is in your best interest. Here in Arkansas, we are home to Mountain Valley Spring Water, which is bottled just a short distance from my hometown. It is a great source of pride for me to see their product on the shelves of grocery stores and upscale markets.

Retailers can familiarize their customers with domestic bottled water products by offering samples. Let them taste the various brands and see if they can tell the difference in flavor when it comes to purified water versus spring water. This will be the perfect opportunity to introduce your customers to something new, particularly when they taste the difference and discover the appeal of domestic spring water.

Showcasing the various waters your store offers will also give you the opportunity to focus on the packaging, and ultimately encourage customers to recycle more. Because all water bottles are recyclable, consumers must be educated and encouraged to recycle more. Many bottled waters, including Mountain Valley, are packaged in recycled plastic bottles as well as recycled glass. It is just a matter of recycling more plastic in order to have that material to reuse in future packaging.
When consumers discover a product that not only tastes good but also appeals to their own personal ideals, from being earth friendly to offering health benefits, they become loyal to a brand. By offering and promoting such brands, retailers will extend that loyalty to their stores.

Little Rock, Ark.-based P. Allen Smith is the host of P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home on PBS, a regular contributor to NBC’s Today show, noted author and accomplished painter.

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