March 22, 2010

the story of bottled water

in honor of world water day, the creators of the story of stuff (which i enjoyed) released a new video called the story of bottled water. several friends have sent it to me because i work for one of the main targets of this video: FIJI water.

folks who know me know that i'm a fairly outspoken proponent of eco-friendly behaviors, and although i don't claim to be an angel, i do try to to be conscious of my actions. i'll be honest: 6 months before i started working at FIJI water, i quit drinking bottled water for the exact reason laid out in the video: tap water is more eco-friendly than bottled water.

now that i've worked for FIJI for almost two years, i have some more perspective on the product and the market. i would never assert that bottled water is more eco-friendly than tap water, but i do know more about how our product is made and marketed. i can't speak on behalf of the company, but i am happy to share my own experiences.

i totally agree with most of the story of bottled water video, as almost all of it is true. her criticisms of "big soda" are particularly apt (that they started selling bottled tap water to make up for dwindling soda revenues and that they believe tap water is the enemy). however, it is unfair to lump FIJI in with nestle/coke/pepsi, and i have a few points of rebuttal for her video:

  1. i think i can fairly say that no one at FIJI thinks tap water is the enemy, nor will any of us say that FIJI is a more eco-friendly option than tap water. what FIJI is competing against is other packaged beverages. if your alternative is a packaged soda or juice, bottled water is definitely a healthier option (boo high-fructose corn syrup!). and of the bottled waters on the market, FIJI water is the only carbon negative product, so it's arguably the most eco-friendly. i realize that this is a "lesser-of-two-evils" argument, but it's the reality of the marketplace. 
  2. FIJI knows it made a mistake with its "cleveland" campaign. the company has apologized for that campaign and repeated that its intention wasn't to poke fun at the municipality -- it was to highlight its water's origin. there are lots of rumors still rampant today that FIJI water comes from the tap in cleveland. having been to our bottling plant in the yaqara valley on the island of viti levu, i can assure you the water does, indeed, come from FIJI. the fact that FIJI water comes from an artesian source in a pristine environment distinguishes the product from those of nestle/coke/pepsi, so obviously the company would like to market those attributes.
  3. to use the cleveland story to characterize FIJI water as "unsafe" is extremely misleading. FIJI water has never been deemed unsafe to drink.

in addition to questions about the eco-friendliness of FIJI water's product, i'm also happy to talk about the conditions on the island of FIJI and the company's presence on the island. back when the mother jones article came out, i had lots of conversations (some with complete strangers) about my experiences on the island. i'm not an expert or a spokesperson for my employer, but i have had first-hand experiences and would be happy to share those with anyone who asks.

disclaimer: the opinions in this post are of a private citizen and reflect my personal observations only. i do not presume to speak on behalf of my employer.


Danny said...

HF corn syrup is, sadly, pretty bad. (

but because I'm admittedly a little obsessed with water (not so much the commodification of said water, but the narrative[s]), when I'd buy a bottle it would strictly be the higher-end stuff. (

thirst-quenchingly great.

Rosalie said...

Fiji's intention wasn't to "poke fun" at Cleveland? Now you're insulting all of us.

Fiji's marketers didn't get that mocking a poverty-stricken Rust Belt city would rub lots of people, not just Clevelanders, the wrong way. But they didn't hide from the fact that ridiculing Cleveland was the whole point of the ad.

In 2004, two years before Fiji piled on, Cleveland was the #1 poorest big city in the US -- poorer than Detroit, poorer than Newark -- so Fiji decided to use a not-very-subtle "us" vs "them" message to sell water. When the flak began Ed Cochran explained that it was a "joke" -- his words -- but it was okay because he grew up outside Cleveland. See, successful suburbanite makes "joke" at the expense of destitute city. That is funny.