Americans spend $15 billion on bottled water,
despite the fact we can simply turn on the tap
The other day I bought six cases of bottled water at Sam’s Club, planning to restock the home and office refrigerators.
I actually stood there and debated whether to buy the Nestlé PureLife “purified water” for $4.24 a case (32, 16.9 ounce bottles), or the
Zephyrhills “natural spring water,” which was premium priced at $4.46 a case.
I decided “natural” had to be better than “purified,” so I sprang for the spring water, splurging an extra 22 cents a case.
At $4.46 for 32 bottles, that works out to a fraction under 14 cents a bottle. (By comparison, a 32-can case of Diet Coke at Sam’s Club runs about $7 — or 22 cents per 12-ouncer.)
As I pushed the very heavy flat-bed cart to the cash register — I’ve since learned that water weighs 8-1/3 pounds per gallon, so I was about to load 221-1/4 pounds of water into my car — I wondered, “How the heck do they make money on this water?”
There are 32 plastic bottles with screw caps in each case. Each one has a printed paper label on it. Each case consists of a sturdy cardboard bottom that is shrink-wrapped with printed plastic. Of course, there’s water in each bottle.
The water provider has to make money, the bottler has to make money, the bottlemaker and the label/shrink-wrap printers have to make money, the shipper/distributor has to make money, and Sam’s Club has to make money ... otherwise, no one would undertake the job of making a case of water available to me for $4.46 — 14 cents per bottle.
How do they chop up that 14 cents? How can there be any profit margin in a 14-cent bottle of water?
There is an answer. Fast Company magazine this month has a fascinating story about the bottled-water industry. It’s long, but it’s incredibly interesting. Here are few sips from it to wet your whistle:
• Americans spent more money last year on bottled water than on iPods or movie tickets: $15 billion. It’ll be $16 billion this year.
• In Fiji, a state-of-the-art factory spins out more than a million bottles a day of the hippest bottled water on the U.S. market, while more than half the people in Fiji do not have safe, reliable drinking water. Which means it is easier for the typical American in Beverly Hills or Baltimore to get a drink of safe, pure, refreshing Fiji water than it is for most people in Fiji.
• In San Francisco, the municipal water comes from inside Yosemite National Park. It's so good the EPA doesn't require San Francisco to filter it. If you bought and drank a bottle of Evian ($1.35 at retail), you could refill that 16.9-ounce bottle once a day for 10 years, 5 months, and 21 days with San Francisco tap water before that water would cost $1.35. Put another way, if the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000.
To drink up the whole story, click here