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Why does bottled water still make a splash with us?

PUBLISHED: 09:55 31 May 2018

Why are we still spending so much on bottled water, asks David Clayton. Picture: Andrew Parsons/PA Wire

Why are we still spending so much on bottled water, asks David Clayton. Picture: Andrew Parsons/PA Wire

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Water, water everywhere... but still we buy the bottled stuff, says David Clayton.

The other day I was thirsty, so I bought a bottle of water. Nothing remarkable in that, I admit. I wasn’t at home, so couldn’t run the tap. I was travelling somewhere and that natural bodily instinct that I needed a drink kicked in.

I was close to one of those convenient local shops. These days, as you’ll all know, we’re bombarded with many bottled varieties of that basic commodity – water. Spoiled for choice, you could say. I perused the chiller cabinet, scanning this way and that, perplexed at the sheer range of water, immune to the fact the handy bottles required over a pound of my English coinage.

But there was a special offer of under a quid – there probably always is - so just wanting a drink of water to take with me, I found myself with a bottle of something called “Fit Water.” I felt temporarily and uncharacteristically sporty. It was pleasantly chilled and in an uncomplicated straight sided bottle. I pondered the fact I was potentially adding to a plastic mountain somewhere, but I wanted a drink.

I discovered that just to quench my thirst, I’d got some “Purified Electrolyte Water for Hydration” with the surprisingly necessary statement on the label of, “Zero Sugar.”

With nothing much to do for a while, I studied the label. Full marks to the manufacturer for scientifically unravelling the intricacies of the product for me and through their language, making me feel virtuous for drinking it. The detail was fascinating. In my water, I’d got some magnesium, calcium, sodium and chloride. Not it seems, sodium chloride.

I knew from my Great Yarmouth Grammar School pass in O-level chemistry that sodium chloride was in fact salt, but I didn’t have that, and it didn’t taste salty. The label went on to assure me that had I broken into a sweat (I hadn’t and didn’t) I’d replace some vital things I could have lost. It wasn’t so much designed to quench my thirst, at least it never said as much, but was designed to keep me hydrated. I reasoned by being hydrated, I’d probably quench my thirst. I enjoyed it as a drink of chilled water but can’t report that it was remarkable in any way. At least, not to me.

We go a long way in this country to make sure the water coming from our taps is drinkable and safe. In that respect we’re very lucky. I applaud the efforts to make tap water available hither and thither for us to replenish our own water bottles, but we’ve been seduced over a good few decades now to accept the convenience and the price of a portable drink of H20.

I made a programme for Radio 4 back in the late Eighties around the time we were just waking-up to the phenomenon of bottled water and, boy, have we come a long way since then. Back then, the French had seemingly cornered the market with Perrier and Evian. Domestically, we were beginning to spot the potential of selling “special” water and if you could bottle some, bubbling-up out of a natural spring on a remote and preferably picturesque (for the label’s sake) hillside, you were made. Better still, if you could pop it in a fashionably-shaped or -coloured bottle there were top-end restaurants willing to charge preposterous amounts of money for it.

There was, in the end, a backlash. These days my favourite restaurant offers a complimentary bottle of water, sporting their logo, which they’ve filled from the tap and then chilled, but if the supermarket refrigerated cabinets are anything to go by, we’re still happy to fork out over the odds for a handy-sized drink of something we can get for free from taps.

Not for nothing did we title that Radio 4 programme “Eau Dear!”


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