After being the brunt of an extensive public advocacy campaign, PepsiCo, Inc. has agreed to change the way it labels its Aquafina branded water to state that the product is derived from public water supplies.
The leading brand of bottled water in the United States, Aquafina is sold in bottles with labels that carry the tagline, “Pure water. Perfect taste,” and depict a stylized graphic of mountain caps. The labels also carry the initials, “P.W.C.,” which stand for “public water source.”
“Though the image implies that the source of Aquafina is mountain spring water, it actually uses tap water as its source,” said Corporate Accountability International, which has pressured PepsiCo and other top water bottlers to indicate their sources. The advocacy group is waging an extensive campaign it calls, “Think Outside the Bottle.” The group claims that consumption of bottled water threatens public water supplies and harms the environment, among other concerns.
PepsiCo agreed to spell out “public water source” on Aquafina labels. The company released a statement that said, “If this helps clarify the fact that the water originates from public sources, then it’s a reasonable thing to do.” The Aquafina website describes a water filtration system used to process the water before bottling it.
Nestlé also said it would re-label its bottles of All Nestlé Pure Life Purified Drinking Water to identify whether the water comes from a municipal or ground-water well source.
The Coca-Cola Company said it has no plans to change the labeling on its Dasani brand, which also comes from local water supplies. The product’s label states that the water is purified. Corporate Accountability International has sought a labeling change similar to those announced by PepsiCo and Nestlé, but a Coca-Cola Company spokeswoman told FoxNews.com that the company does not think consumers are confused by the source of its water.
Consumers spent a total of about $15 billion on bottled water in the United States last year, according to an estimate by Beverage Digest. Aquafina generated U.S. sales of some $2.17 billion; Dasani’s sales totaled about $1.89 billion; and Nestlé's water sales generated $1.7 billion, the trade publication reported.
However, the bottled water industry is undergoing somewhat of a public backlash. Los Angeles and San Francisco have banned city spending on bottled water. Salt Lake City has directed department heads to eliminate bottled water. And Ann Arbor has prohibited commercially bottled water from city events. The U.S. Conference of Mayors recently adopted a resolution highlighting the importance of public water systems and the negative impact of bottled water, according to Corporate Accountability International.
Why This Matters: The story is a reminder that advertisers are subject to more than regulatory mandates. Public advocacy groups can have a powerful sway on public opinion, so it’s important to track the pulse of public opinion, participate in public dialogue and plan for changes in marketing strategy as needed. On the other hand, companies must weigh the impact and legitimacy of such public advocate initiatives, and make independent decisions and not simply follow the pack.