Canadian Vending

Features Consumer Behaviour Trends
Dispensing strategies: Take me to your litre

Move over gasoline. There’s a new liquid gold on horizon


October 29, 2008
By Michelle Brisebois

Topics

When we started paying more than a dollar per litre, it was clear to us that a psychological threshold had been reached. When people started to question the environmental impact, alternatives came to the forefront. When Canadians started to realize other “have-not” countries were eyeing our robust natural supply longingly, we started to get nervous.

When we started paying more than a dollar per litre, it was clear to us that a psychological threshold had been reached. When people started to question the environmental impact, alternatives came to the forefront. When Canadians started to realize other “have-not” countries were eyeing our robust natural supply longingly, we started to get nervous.
Move over gasoline. There’s a new liquid gold on the horizon and its story has significant ramifications for the vending industry.
Water’s trajectory from natural resource to designer accessory and now environmental bargaining chip has everyone taking notice.
Designer waters imported from European countries started gracing the menus in high-end restaurants in the 1970s and ’80s.  It became a “small indulgence” – a way to feel special with a relatively small price tag attached.
As consumers began looking for low calorie, healthy alternatives to soda pop and fruit juices, bottled water began popping up in vending machines and on grocery store shelves along side soda.
Statistics Canada says nearly one-third of all Canadian households are choosing to drink bottled water over tap water. It should be a no-brainer. After all, it’s water in a recyclable plastic bottle – what could possibly be the downside?
Apparently, the nature of how bottled water is consumed makes it less than environmentally friendly.
According to the Sierra Club, most bottled water is consumed away from home – meaning that when the bottle is empty, the consumer may not be close to a blue box. The empty bottle will often end up in a garbage bin or even tossed to the side of the road instead of entering the recycling stream.
“We believe we recycled about 1,000 tonnes of plastic water bottles last year. There’s 65,000 bottles per tonne, so therefore we recycled 65 million water bottles in Toronto,” Geoff Rathbone, general manager of solid waste for the City of Toronto, said in a May 2008 Toronto Sun interview.
Those 65 million empty plastic water bottles per year end up in Michigan’s landfill. It takes thousands of years for the plastic to decompose.
When one examines the carbon footprint of bottled water from the supply side, the Sierra Club of Canada indicates that “the average energy cost to produce and ship one plastic bottle of water equals one-quarter bottle of oil, plus it creates greenhouse gas emissions and destroys the ozone layer.”
Consumers are also starting to realize there isn’t anything special about the water inside of the bottle. It’s basically packaged tap water. As they connect the dots, folks are starting to wonder why on earth they should pay good money for something that runs through their taps for free.
As custodians of nine per cent of the world’s fresh water supply, Canadians are practically swimming in the stuff – right?
Water has been dubbed the “Blue Gold” of the 21st century. As climate change, pollution and urbanization continue to compete for water supplies; fresh water is becoming humanity’s most precious and high profile resource. Because tap water can be sold to large companies for more money than it can be sold to regular households, there is concern that public water supplies will become more scarce.
A cost comparison found at sierraclub.org pegs the consumer cost for tap water at $0.0015 per gallon and bottled water at $1.27 per gallon. The argument here is while we may feel that the “selling out” of our water supply may be fear-mongering, bad things sometimes happen in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. 
Agriculture and Agri Food Canada reports that from 1998 to 2006, annual per capita consumption of bottled water increased from 28.4 litres to 66 litres. The most dramatic increase (12.2 per cent) occurred between 2005 and 2006.
“Despite gains in consumption in recent years, Canada does not rank in the top 15 countries leading bottled water consumption but continues to make gains against carbonated soft drinks, its major beverage competitor. The overall Canadian beverage marketplace continued its slow and steady expansion in 2006, with seven out of nine major beverage categories gaining volume, and with bottled water showing the largest gains. Measured by volume, the bottled water share of total beverages in 2006 was 9.1 per cent compared to 5 per cent in 2000.”
Consumer advocates point out that as large beverage companies sell more bottled tap water, this may pose a threat to public water utilities.  After all, if it’s more profitable to sell the water for bottling than to serve the public water supply, it potentially diverts funds and attention away from improving public water services. We could waste our hard-earned money on bottled water instead of insisting on healthier tap water.
Consumers are also considering the carbon footprint of their purchases these days and the emissions spent to transport bottles filled with the same water running through our taps will no doubt give some people reason to reconsider drinking bottled water exclusively.
Spring water offers the consumer a more tangible point of difference and as such will likely hold its ground.  It’s also probable that consumers may be more willing to give up their bottled water at home in favour of filtered tap water but continue to enjoy the convenience of bottled water away from home.
For something that’s colourless, odourless and tasteless – it sure does incite passionate opinions.
As expensive as gasoline? Maybe.
More critical to our survival? Without question.


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