Has FIJI Water Jumped the Shark?

FIJI water has gotten so much flack lately, I’m starting to feel sorry for them. On one hand they’ve been shaken down by the military government of Fiji for a bigger slice of their revenues. On the other, they’ve been been accused of supporting that very same regime.  They’ve been beaten up by every environmentally conscious media outlet from TreeHugger to MotherJones, and most recently have been hit by a whopper of a lawsuit claiming their carbon accounting is shady and meaningless while half the country drinks dirty water.

On top of all of this, bottled water in general has been taking a hit. The above concerns, coupled with a weak economy and much better marketing on the part of filter companies and re-usable bottle makers have slowed growth.  Apparently it’s been hard enough on FIJI that the company had big layoffs about a year ago, even before their latest problems.

Nonetheless, among luxury brands, FIJI continues to be relatively popular (apparently number 2 after the similarly luxuriant Evian).  But the overall market slide for bottled water seems to be a continuing trend.

With the impact of the current legal challenge and the tax situation in their home country, will FIJI manage to remain in business?

How they could save their brand:

In the dark-green consumer segment, FIJI has about as much street cred as ExxonMobil.  But I wonder why they bother trying? My two cent suggestion for FIJI’s marketing department is to either truly embrace sustainability or start downplaying the green message – trying to claim dodgy carbon credits and the like is only going to provoke more aggressive criticism and potential legal action.

FIJI could just admit that shipping water from FIJI is a strange thing to do – but by embracing the social aspects of sustainability they could salvage some sympathy. The current government notwithstanding, stimulating the economy of Fiji, alleviating poverty, or building water and other infrastructure for the people in need could become stated goals of the company. They could sponsor an entrepreneurship award for local folks aimed at solving some sort of ecological or social dilemma. Granted, they’d have to document this in a foolproof way.

To a certain extent, they’ve done this already. It’s widely documented on their website in fact. But by doing so more vocally, making such efforts part of the very core and mission of FIJI, they could emerge as a brand more like Ethos Water, whose entire stated purpose is to drive investment in better water infrastructure in the developing world.  In my opinion, buying Ethos is only slightly less ridiculous than buying FIJI, but the brand has gotten nowhere near the flack that FIJI gets and has arguably done a lot of good.

But what’s the essence of FIJI’s mission?

Part of the problem is that while Ethos’ core mission is to alleviate the global water crisis, FIJI’s core purpose is basically “bling.” It’s a vanity brand for people seeking something pretty and exotic.  FIJI seems to be caught between this fact and trying to appear responsible to people that probably wouldn’t buy their product anyway. Do FIJI’s core customers actually care that the water comes from Fiji? Do they even know? If FIJI switched to filtered tap water and didn’t tell anyone, would FIJI drinkers notice?

Now that’s an idea.  I sometimes think they could easily pull this off, saving lots of money on shipping and earning legit green cred in the process.  Make the bottles out of some kinda of bioplastic while they’re at it.  They could still call it “FIJI” as a way to draw attention to various issues the island faces and heck, maybe the government would start paying them as a tourist marketing arm?

Unfortunately for bottled water makers all around, the trends mentioned above will likely continue.  FIJI and others may indeed be dead men walking.

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Is bottled water bad? Read more here.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has since grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.