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Liquid Assets: How the Business of Bottled Water Went Mad

How did a substance that falls from the air, springs from the earth, and comes out of your tap become a hyperactive multibillion-dollar business?

The Guardian

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The dress code of the clientele in Planet Organic, Notting Hill is gym chic. On a hot day in mid-August 2016, the men wore mid-thigh shorts, pectoral-enhancing vests, neon Nikes; the women were in black leggings and intricate ensembles of sports bras and cross-strapped Lycra. They had all either just worked out, were about to work out, or wanted to look as if working out was a constant possibility.

They examined the shelves. As well as the usual selection of kale crackers and paleo egg protein boosters, there were promises of wizardry, such as a packet of Alchemy Organic Super Blend Energy Elixir (£40 for 300g of powder). But never mind the food. Life today is liquid. Opposite a display of untouched pastries and assorted bread products (who, in Planet Organic in Notting Hill, still eats bread?), were the waters.

There was Life, Volvic, Ugly, Sibberi (birch or maple), Plenish, What A Melon watermelon water, Vita Coco, Coco Pro, Coco Zumi, Chi 100% Pure Coconut Water, Rebel Kitchen Coconut Water and coconut water straight from the nut (“you have to make the hole yourself”, explained a shop assistant). Also: an electrolyte-enhanced water pledging to hydrate you with 40% less fluid than ordinary water (Overly Fitness), a birch water offering “a natural source of anti-oxidising manganese” (Tapped) and an alternative birch water promising to “eliminate cellulite” (Buddha). There was also a “water bar” – a tap in the corner of the shop – that, according to the large sign hanging from the ceiling, offered, for free, the “cleanest drinking water on the planet”, thanks to a four-stage process conducted by a “reverse osmosis deionising water filter.”

Planet Organic’s display was impressive, but only hinted at the full range of waters available to the hydration-conscious consumer. Right now, the global bottled water industry is in one of those strange and energetic boom phases where every week, it seems, a new product finds its way on to the shelves. Not just another bland still or sparkling, but some entirely new definition of the element. It is a case of capitalism at its most hyperactive and brazenly inventive: take a freely available substance, dress it up in countless different costumes and then sell it as something new and capable of transforming body, mind, soul. Water is no longer simply water – it has become a commercial blank slate, a word on to which any possible ingredient or fantastical, life-enhancing promise can be attached.

And it’s working. Over the past two decades, bottled water has become the fastest-growing drinks market in the world. The global market was valued at $157bn in 2013, and is expected to reach $280bn by 2020. In 2015, in the UK alone, consumption of water drinks grew by 8.2%, equating to a retail value of more than £2.5bn. Sales of water are 100 times higher than in 1980. Of water: a substance that, in developed countries, can be drunk for free from a tap without fear of contracting cholera. What is going on?

For a substance that falls out of the sky and springs from the earth of its own accord, water has always had an extraordinary commercial lure. According to James Salzman, the author of Drinking Water: A History, monks at holy wells produced special water flasks for pilgrims to take away as proof of their visit – a medieval example of the power of branding. For centuries, wealthy Europeans travelled to spa towns to sample the water in a bid to cure specific ailments. The spa visit was a signal of health, but also of status: somewhere to be seen, an association of liquid and individual that broadcasted social elevation – a distant precursor to Kim Kardashian clutching a bottle of Fiji, if you like. In 1740, the first commercial British bottled water was launched in Harrogate. By 1914 Harrogate Spring was, according to its website, the largest exporter of bottled water in the country, “proudly keeping the troops hydrated from England to Bombay.”

In the early 20th century, however, a water revolution nearly killed the nascent business. After early attempts in Germany and Belgium to chlorinate municipal drinking water, a typhoid epidemic in Lincoln in 1905 prompted the public health crusader Alexander Cruickshank Houston to try out the first extended chlorination of a public water supply. His experiment worked, and soon, chlorination of municipal water had spread around the world. In 1908, Jersey City became the first US city to use full-scale water chlorination, and the practice quickly spread across the country.

The bottled water industry almost collapsed as a result. In the past, buying clean water had been a necessity for the rich (the poor simply endured centuries of bad drinking water, and often died from the experience). Now it was freely available to all. Why would you continue to spend money on something that now came, miraculously, out of a tap in your kitchen?

The answer arrived in 1977, in the form of what must be one of history’s greatest pieces of television advertising narration. “Deep below the plains of southern France,” rumbled Orson Welles in a voice that sounded as if it were bubbling up from some unreachable subterranean cave, “in a mysterious process begun millions of years ago, Nature herself adds life to the icy waters of a single spring: Perrier.” As viewers watched the water descend into a glass, and admired the glistening green bottle, marketing history was made. The advert was part of a $5m campaign across America – the largest ever for a bottled water – and proved a major success. From 1975 to 1978, Perrier sales in the US increased from 2.5m bottles to more than 75m bottles.

The Perrier triumph was part of “a perfect confluence”, Salzman told me, of a sudden craze for aerobics in the US, prompted, in part, by Jane Fonda releasing her first exercise video – Jane Fonda’s Workout, the highest-selling video of all time – in 1982. There was a new drive not just to be healthy, but to be seen to be healthy. In 1985, Time magazine noted that “water snobbery has replaced wine snobbery as the latest noon-hour recreation. People order their eau by brand name, as they once did Scotch.”

Soon enough, rumours circulated of Madonna bathing in bottled water, and Jack Nicholson was photographed brandishing a bottle of Evian at the Oscars as if it were Cristal. There was also a key practical innovation: in 1977, plastic or PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles were introduced into the soft drink market. By 1990, they were being used for bottled water, making it as convenient and portable as a fizzy drink. The big soft drink brands, spotting the obvious commercial opportunity, soon launched their own waters: PepsiCo’s Aquafina in 1994, Coca-Cola’s Dasani in 1999, and Nestlé’s Pure Life in 2002. Water was back.

Water’s glorious renaissance wasn’t just about fashion or convenience. Bottled water can be marked up like no other substance on earth. The £1 that a bottle of water often costs could pay for around 1,000 gallons of tap water. Some waters – Evian, Perrier, Highland Spring and Harrogate Spring – come from natural sources, so at least you feel you’re paying for geography, for the fantasy of a shepherd sitting on a rock catching the icy flow in a glass jar specifically for your pleasure. But plenty of bottled waters are simply refashioned tap water.

In February 2004, Coca-Cola attempted to launch Dasani in the UK. (“Dasani”, by the way, means nothing.) Five weeks later, the company took all 500,000 bottles off the shelves after headlines such as the Daily Star’s “Are They Taking Us For Plonkers!” Coca-Cola had followed its successful strategy in the US and purified tap water, added some mineral salts, and was selling it for 95p a bottle. The company hadn’t, however, accounted for Britain’s long memory for sitcom storylines – in this case, the episode of Only Fools and Horses when Del Boy and Rodney bottle tap water in their flat and sell it as Peckham Spring. Then there was the issue of a batch of minerals contaminating Dasani with a possibly carcinogenic bromate. In a little more than a month, Dasani was dead.

Ten years later, Coca-Cola launched a new bottled water in the UK. In the intervening decade, the industry, after a brief dip following the 2008 financial crash, had entered its hyperactive new phase. Vita Coco – one of the first of the “new” waters – came to the UK in 2009, and in its wake soon appeared a flotilla of further coconut waters (the coconut water market is now worth £100m in the UK).

The industry received a further boost from the former chancellor George Osborne, who announced a sugar tax on soft drinks in his final budget. As the “plain” bottled water market continued to expand, new inventions began to spring up. “Strong established growth leads to offshoots,” explained Richard Hall, chairman of Zenith International, a market research company that organises the annual and thrillingly named Global Bottled Water Congress. Water had begun its reinvention: enter maple, birch, energy and even ocean.

Coca-Cola’s new water is called Glacéau Smartwater. The water, which comes from a spring in Morpeth, Northumberland, is “vapour distilled,” then injected with electrolytes. In other words, the water is evaporated and then condensed again, a process Coca-Cola describes as being “inspired by the clouds.”

In 2006, this, surely, would have got the Peckham Spring treatment from the media. But we live in new times. As of 2016, Glacéau Smartwater is worth £21.9m, and, Coca-Cola has announced an investment of £15m to expand the factory where it is produced. At present, it turns out 56,000 bottles of water per hour.

If the last decade witnessed water’s great commercial expansion, 2016 could perhaps be defined as the year the market lost its mind. There now seems to be no limit on what a water can be, or what consumers are willing to buy. It is no longer enough for water to simply be water: it must have special powers. 

That summer alone saw the launch of Flõ Essence Water, Omega Enhanced Health Water, BiPro Protein Water and Svalbarði polar iceberg water. Other recent additions include blk. water (black water), FATwater (water containing “quality fat”) and deep ocean water harvested from off the coast of Hawaii (which allegedly hydrates you twice as fast as “normal” water). The Evening Standard ran an article that only semi-ironically described water as a “superdrink.”

Powering this proliferation of new brands is a new breed of start-upper: the water entrepreneur. I met one such man – a 27-year-old named Rahi Daneshmand – in Planet Organic on that hot August day, doling out samples of his new product, Virtue Energy Water. Virtue offers, in a 250ml can (£1.35), a sugar-free sparkling water that contains “yerba maté”, ginseng, citric acid, guarana and natural fruit flavours , and offers a “natural” caffeine hit equivalent to a cup of coffee. It comes in two flavours, berries and lemon and lime. The response from the clientele was varied: “More fun than normal water!” said one woman, taking a sip. “It’s not too sweet,” approved another. “I’m trying to avoid sweetness.” Some were a little bemused. “Natural caffeine? What’s that?” asked a younger customer. “Is it for the 3pm slump or after clubbing? What’s it for?”

Virtue is Daneshmand’s big idea. In fact, it’s his second big idea – after Virtue Iced Tea, which did quite well (it’s stocked on Ocado). In his mind, iced tea has now been surpassed by the great hope of his new creation, which he claims is Britain’s first ever naturally sugar-free energy water. Daneshmand is a committed, joyous entrepreneur. After a few childhood years in Iran, he moved back to England with his family, went to Newcastle University, and somewhere along the way picked up the look and accent of an indefatigably cheerful rugby player. He wears polo shirts, lives by mantras – “nothing in life is worth getting stressed about” – and is the kind of hyper-motivated person who reads two business books in a weekend. (In mid-August: Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organisation and Ego is the Enemy.)

Daneshmand says he went into water because he wanted to make something pure. “Water is something that everyone needs and something that everyone drinks,” he explained. “We went with the term water because it has zero sugar.”

This, he pointed out, is not always the case. Many of the so-called “waters” crowding the market are jammed with sugar. Coca-Cola’s Glacéau Vitaminwater (“vitamins. electrolytes. unstoppableness”) used to contain 23g of sugar, until the public outcry forced the company to start swapping sugar for the sweetener stevia. (Then there was a subsequent outcry about the new taste, so it swapped back.)

“People are just trying to put water into everything,” said Daneshmand, shaking his head. His water, from the mains supply, is subject to “ultra-filtration and reverse osmosis” to remove minerals and make it “clean”. Its added ingredients are entirely natural. On this point, Daneshmand is evangelical: “That’s what a water is and what a water should always be.”

One afternoon in the summer of 2016 I watched Daneshmand pitch his water to Rahil Vora, managing director of the health food chain Revital. Things seemed to be going well. It was a fiercely hot day, which made any cold liquid seem appealing, and there was the happy synchrony that both Virtue and Revital had incorporated a leaf into their logo. Moreover, Vora was buying into the concept. “I like the fact that it’s an energy ‘water’ rather than an energy ‘drink’,” he said. He liked the can, too – more environmentally friendly than a plastic bottle – and the natural ingredients, yerba mate in particular.

“You know about it?” said Daneshmand, almost disappointed. “In south America they drink it religiously – it’s their equivalent of tea.”

Vora didn’t need schooling. “It’s going to pick up as a trend,” he said. “Give it a year and you’ll see it become not quite as big as green tea but … it’s one of those ingredients.”

“Yeah,” said Daneshmand. “We put the accent on the maté as I think people were reading it as yerba mate.”

New water samples were arriving on Vora’s desk every week. “It’s a fashion thing,” he said. “Water in a can was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.” Water in a can? “Literally. I got sent a box of samples. And it was just water. In a can.”

Vora shook his head in disbelief. No yerba mate, no aloe, nothing – 330ml for 99p. Vora paused. “For water, though.”

Water in a can, it turned out, was CanO water, launched by three young British entrepreneurs in 2016. I went to see them in their office in Stanmore, north London – one room, laptops, a mini basketball hoop on the wall. Ariel Booker, 24, and Perry Fielding, 29, sat opposite each other. (Their third cofounder, Josh White, was away.) Business was going well.

Before they had formally launched, CanO had secured the right to supply London Fashion Week and a purchase order from Selfridges, which has banned all plastic bottles from its store as part of its environmental programme, Project Ocean. (CanO also managed to land a celebrity endorsement on Instagram from the model David Gandy: “No excuses not to be hydrated this summer”.) By March, CanO was stocked in Whole Foods.

I mentioned Vora’s bewilderment at their product. “We have this problem on the phone,” said Booker, the fast-talker, in a monochrome printed shirt and silver bracelet. “Without seeing it, it can be a bit mind-boggling! Why? What? How? When?”

“People just think of it as a Coke can filled with water,” said Fielding, the creative, a sun tattoo on his arm and silver chain around his neck. “It seems very unexciting when you think of it like that.”

Everything changes, they believe, when you see CanO. The water, which comes from the foothills of the Austrian alps, is packaged in a minimalist black (sparkling) or white (still) can. “The visual aspect dictates everything we do,” said Fielding. “So it’s not just a product or a company or a drink, it’s actually an aspirational brand that you’d want to buy into.” On the brand’s Instagram feed, the cans pose sexily next to MacBook Airs, old-fashioned cameras, swimming pools and YSL handbags. Water just happens to be the thing inside.

Fielding had the eureka moment last year while drinking a canned fizzy drink. “It just dawned on me, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to be able to drink water out of a can?’” The can, made of aluminium, is easily recyclable and has a resealable lid – a piece of German design that means you can put the can back in your bag without worrying about it leaking.

“I think some people look at this and think it’s a gimmick,” said Fielding. “Just because we’ve packaged it nicely doesn’t actually make it a gimmick.”

The brand name, meanwhile, was their second choice. Fielding originally wanted to call the product “Water”, but lawyers informed him that you couldn’t trademark the word that simply described the contents of the can.

The arrival of plain water in a pretty German-engineered can feels like some kind of apex, where the market’s relentless demand for novelty has pushed a basic substance to its limit. We are surely only a small step from the unquestioned purchasing of emotions or air. (This, inevitably, is already happening: as Andrea Leadsom excitedly pointed out in her recent Tory party conference speech, a young British entrepreneur, Leo de Watts, now sells glass jars of Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset, Welsh or Yorkshire air for £80 each, mostly to the Chinese.)

Even those in the bottled water industry find some of the newer arrivals perplexing. Everyone has their pet farce. For Ariel Booker of CanO, it was black water: “What is the need to have water that’s black?” he said. “There is none.” For Daneshmand, it was Rockstar, an American “energy water” brand that had the same sugar volume as Red Bull (9g per 100ml). “Absolutely mad, that was.”

Martin Riese, whose website describes him as “the world’s foremost expert on water,” directs his disdain at Glacéau Smartwater: “Sorry, Smartwater, but you are not a premium product,” he told me in his thick German accent. “You are a highly processed product and your water belongs in the trash can, nowhere else!” For Riese, a purist, “bottled water has to come from nature”. Any kind of processing is, he believes, “the biggest scam on planet Earth!”

Riese really, really loves water. “It started for me as a very small child,” he told me. “I was four years old, on vacation with my parents, and I was blown away by the fact that the tap water in the city tasted differently.” After school, he started working in restaurants in Germany, put together what was possibly the world’s first water menu in 2005 for a Berlin bistro, and wrote a book: Die Welt des Wassers (The World of Waters). “It’s a German book, so you’ll have to learn to read German to read it.”

Over the years, Riese has become part of water history. After receiving his certificate as a mineral water sommelier from the German Mineral Water Trade Association, he moved to America in 2010 and became that country’s first water sommelier. In 2013, he launched the longest water menu in Los Angeles at Ray’s and Stark Bar, and cofounded his own brand of mineral water: Beverly Hills 90H20.

This self-proclaimed “champagne of waters” quickly won FoodBev Media’s Beverage Innovation award for the “World’s Best Still or Sparkling Water”. A case of 24 500ml bottles is $72, while a bottle from the “Luxury Collection, Diamond Edition” will cost you $100,000. It has a white gold cap set with more than 850 white and black diamonds and holds the profoundly questionable honour of being the world’s most expensive bottle of water. If you buy it, Riese will present the bottle to you in person at a private water tasting anywhere in the world.

At present, Riese sommeliers at Patina, a restaurant in the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. There, he guides the diners through his water menu, helping them to select the ideal water to accompany their meal.

Riese talked me through his technique.

First: “Do you prefer sparkling or flat?”

Then: “Do you prefer your bubbles a little bit more progressive, like very intense, or do you like your bubbles a little bit on the smaller side, like champagne bubbles, very tiny?”

Finally: “Do you prefer something on the high mineral end, on the salty and bitter side, or do you prefer something on the smoother side, with a lower mineral composition, like maybe a little bit on the fruitier side?”

“People will tell you right away, then, what they want,” said Riese. Perhaps the clientele at the Patina restaurant are better versed in the mineral composition and fruity or salty aspects of water than the rest of us. At a basic level, the taste of water varies according to the total dissolved solids (TDS) it contains. These solids can be any substance, but the key elements are sodium, magnesium and calcium. Any filtered or chemically treated tap water will usually contain fewer solids than a bottled water that still carries the minerals from the water’s source, be it glacial, maple sap or spring.

Fiji water, for example, contains 210mg/L TDS, including 18mg/L sodium, 13mg/L magnesium and 18mg/L calcium. (Fiji appears to have pulled off some fairly heavy-duty trademarking, including “Untouched by man™” and “Earth’s finest water™”.) Compare those numbers to San Pellegrino, which contains quadruple the TDS, at 925mg/L, including 33.6mg/L sodium, 53.8mg/L magnesium and 178mg/L calcium. Fiji, with far fewer solids, tastes smoother, while the San Pellegrino is bolder, saltier and naturally fizzy.

Nothing, however, compares to Riese’s favourite water, the Slovenian spring water Roi. “I’m always calling it the Big Boy,” said Riese. Roi has a TDS of 7,400mg/L, including more than 1,000mg/L of magnesium. For Riese, the experience of drinking this water is extraordinary, and emotional. He sits with a glass on its own – no mixer, no food, no distraction – as if he’s drinking a rare cognac. “This is something very, very special.”

Riese knows how his obsession with water might be perceived. “Some people think I’m the biggest scam artist,” he told me. He believes that he is simply applying the principle of wine to water – terroir. The taste of natural water, just like wine, is affected by geography, earth, the rock it passes through. And Roi is the ultimate example: “It has way more electrolytes than Gatorade,” Riese said, his voice climbing in ecstasy. “Think about it! Way more electrolytes than Gatorade! But it’s from Mother Nature!”

Take an investigation into the bottled water industry to its logical conclusion and you find yourself drinking melted icebergs. In 2015, the Merchant hotel in Belfast launched its water menu to a global chorus of tabloid mockery. “Would you pay £26 for a bottle of water (even if it IS from a Canadian glacier)?” ran the Daily Mail headline. Gavin Carroll, the Merchant’s general manager, gave the whole episode its only possible name: Watergate. When I visited in summer 2016 to sample the menu, he still seemed a little puzzled by the reaction. “We’re like, ‘Really? It’s just water.’” For £26? “We’re a five-star hotel. We have to offer our customers choice.”

The Merchant’s executive chef, and the chief architect of the water menu, Patrick Leonard – a man so passionate about water that before every sip I took, I could sense him shuffling to the edge of his seat in anticipation – brought out the notorious £26 bottle, called Iceberg. The water comes from the Canadian Arctic ice shelf in Newfoundland, frozen around 10,000 years ago. “They’re not allowed to remove parts of icebergs,” said Leonard, “so they have to wait until they separate. They detach naturally, and then they’re netted, brought on a boat to land and allowed to melt.”

It’s a beautiful thing, this bottle – more like a premium vodka bottle, made of thick glass, decorated with white snowflakes. Leonard poured a portion of the ancient iceberg into a tumbler. The pressure mounted; I was painfully aware that the glass of water in front of me was worth a tenner, and I still had my bottle of airport-purchased Boots’ own brand on the table. I sipped, swallowed, felt the passage of liquid down my oesophagus – and couldn’t taste anything at all. This was not a total failure of my unsophisticated palate. Melted iceberg essentially has no taste, having the lowest TDS (9mg/L) of any water on earth. It is like the ur-water, the water that pre-dates all other waters. “This is your starting point,” said Leonard, gravely. “Your baseline.”

We moved on to Whitehole Springs, a Somerset-sourced, calcium-rich still water that passes through Tufa rock; Vichy Catalan, a salty Spanish sparkler; and finally De L’Aubier Sap Water, from Canada, a byproduct of the maple syrup manufacturing process. Along the way, Leonard explained the origin of his water preoccupation: a radio interview he heard with – who else? – Martin Riese: “It just got me hooked; that was it.” For a chef already infatuated by taste, water was the natural extension. “We pay so much attention to food and wine, but we forget about the water,” he said. His favourite? Vichy Catalan. “I just had friends for dinner, and instead of bringing out the wine, I brought out three bottles of that.” He looked absolutely delighted. “It was so much fun!”

It’s hard to maintain cynicism in the face of a true enthusiast. Leonard loves water so much he has water parties. This is not to be mocked. And, I’ll admit it, tasting this quartet of waters taught its own lesson. Pay attention, as with anything, and you notice more, appreciate more. These waters tasted dramatically different from each other, had their own peculiarities and characteristics. The maple sap water was sweet, earthy; Whitehole Springs thicker and chalky. And after the featureless purity of the melted iceberg, the Vichy Catalan was like snorting peppercorns.

Of course, there is something deranged about the idea of netting an iceberg and waiting for it to melt – apparently, applying heat would ruin the taste. There is also something disturbing about paying nearly £30 for the experience of drinking the end result. But, for the connoisseur, all of this makes as much sense as buying a vintage claret instead of Jacob’s Creek, a fillet steak instead of a Peperami. Passion has no limit.

At some point, surely, we will reach “peak” water. Perhaps it will be the moment consumers lose faith in the cellulite-eradicating powers of Buddha water or wonder if it’s really worth paying over the odds for birch sap . You hope for cold logic to kick in, some sort of mass awakening to this lunatic capitalist experiment. What are we even looking for, in all these waters? The same thing, perhaps, that we are hoping to find when we buy quinoa crisps, or gluten-free seed bars: perfect health, moral relief, a sense of inner purity that somehow erases all the wine we drank last night. We want to be better people.

The peak, however, is not in sight: for now, experts can only see growth steadily increasing in the bottled water market, at 5-6% across the industry over the next five years, according to Zenith’s Richard Hall. The water entrepreneurs are yet to run out of ideas. There are waters that haven’t even been thought of yet, niches still to be fully explored. Minor brands – the endless coconut waters – will fall away over time, said the water historian James Salzman, and “you’ll be left with those who have survived, who will be purchased by the major players.”

For the young entrepreneurs, like CanO and Virtue, the future is about staying in the game, making a product that a consumer didn’t even know they needed six months ago, but that now inhabits their fridge door with the permanence of ketchup. In early autumn 2016, things were going well – both Revital and Holland & Barrett had ordered Virtue for their shops and Daneshmand had meetings set up with two of the four largest supermarket chains (he was too coy to name them). CanO, meanwhile, had shipped its first orders to China, Germany and Thailand.

If there is a final frontier of water, then perhaps it is the waters now being invented for children. Zenith have forecasted that the kids’ water category is set to grow even faster than “adult” water. In August, Capri-Sun (owned by Coca-Cola) launched a range of juicy waters; in November 2015, Volvic released its Star Wars collection, including bottles decorated with Chewbacca and Darth Vader; and in May this year, the first ever sparkling water for kids was launched in the US, called Tickle Water.

According to Heather McDowell, CEO, Tickle Water was her son’s idea. When he was two, he asked for a sip of her sparkling water, loved it, “and the next day he was like, ‘Mommy, I want tickle water!’” she told me enthusiastically. Tickle Water comes in a transparent plastic can with an aluminium lid. “So the kids can feel like they’re drinking a soda because it looks like a soda can, but the parents feel good because they see that it’s clear, plain, transparent water.”

For McDowell, if making water look like Coke means kids drink more water and less Coke, this can only be a good thing. True, undoubtedly, but somehow it feels like the final twist in water’s elaborate rebrand, the last stop on a journey that starts with turning on a tap and marvelling that something clean, healthy and potable comes out, and then pauses – for years – to watch an iceberg melt very, very slowly, and ends with a child drinking “cola” water (one of Tickle Water’s natural flavours), because he likes the style of the can.

From element to commodity, we finally got there: welcome to the age of Water™.

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This post originally appeared on The Guardian and was published October 6, 2016. This article is republished here with permission.

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