I’m a happy tap water drinker. Maybe I’m blissfully ignorant, but the idea of buying bottled water just seems silly and wasteful to me, unless I’m on a camping trip, in which case I’ll often buy a bottle of Pepsi’s Aquafina – simply because that brand’s bottles are the right size to fit in my backpack and they have a larger spout which I find easier to drink out of, plus they last.
The fact is a high portion (see this Ocean Arks PDF for details) of bottled water comes from municipal sources anyway, and winds up being 240 to 10,000 times as expensive, often with only minimal nutritional differences.
But that’s just me. The other fact is that bottled water is wildly popular, for both rational and irrational reasons. Although some regions have municipal water systems with serious safety issues, it’s the power of marketing that is ultimately responsible for bottled water’s massive popularity.
Given that popularity, a few bottled water manufacturers have found ways to strengthen their brand and offering by adding more intangible benefits, ie social value, to the world and the consciousness of the customer.
Ethos, now owned by Starbucks, is one such example. Five cents from every Ethos bottle sold goes toward water projects in the developing world to address a growing worldwide water crisis. [Ethos official site here]
Biota is another brand with a somewhat different approach – their catch is that they are the first bottled water company to use NatureWorks’ PLA compostable plastic, made from corn, to bottle their product. The consumer of a Biota product gets the satisfaction of knowing they’re making an investment in renewable technology, and a bottle that simply biodegrades naturally.
Are these things enough to create sufficient brand differentiation to make for successful companies? Biota and Ethos are both betting on it. I can say that if I were a bottled water drinker, it would certainly push me in their direction.