London, March 2: The ingredients of Coca-Cola are, as every schoolchild knows, one of the world’s best-kept secrets. Even subcontractors who bottle the stuff are kept in the dark, in order to preserve the mystique of The Real Thing.
The same cannot be said, however, about Dasani, Coca-Cola Company’s latest foray into the British bottled water market.
It comes from the tap. In Sidcup, to be precise.
Yesterday, the world’s biggest soft drinks manufacturer defended the concept of charging a recommended 53p per 500ml for what can normally be obtained by a slight movement of the wrist.
Dasani, said a spokesman, was designed to meet the “aspirational” needs of customers.
But Sidcup, in southeast London, isn’t exactly the French Alps, is it'
“The point is quality rather than provenance,” she explained.
To be fair, Coca-Cola do quite a lot to the water, which is piped directly into a very expensive plant recently completed.
The raw product is first passed through three filters intended to extract particles, organic debris and chlorine before a final stage known as reverse osmosis.
The technique, perfected by Nasa to purify fluids on spacecraft, involves forcing the water under pressure through a fine membrane, removing any remaining “bacteria, viruses, salts, minerals, sugars, proteins and toxin particles”.
The result: almost totally pure H2O.
The problem is that it is very boring H2O. Solution: Having gone to the trouble of taking everything out, put three other other things back into it — calcium, magnesium and sodium bicarbonate.
Apparently, Dasani tastes nicer that way, while still being “as pure as bottled water gets”.
The water supply industry is unimpressed.
Barrie Clarke, spokesman for UK Water, which represents suppliers, said the suggestion behind the process seemed to be that there was something wrong with good old British tap water.
“We don’t think there are any impurities in tap water,” he said. “People don’t need to buy this stuff to get excellent quality, healthy water. If they like the convenience, the style, then fine, but I don’t think that is the way they are marketing this product. Tap water is pure, and that’s the opinion of the Drinking Water Inspectorate which carries out three million checks a year.”
Thames Water, which supplies the Sidcup area, said its tap water passed 99.92 per cent of quality tests.
Chris Shipway, the company’s spokesman, said: “If the water regulator thought any more treatment was needed they would ask us to do so.”
Coca-Cola was unrepentant. “The source of the water is irrelevant. It doesn’t effect the end result. The aim is to ensure uniformity of quality and taste wherever you are in the UK. We would never say tap water isn’t drinkable. It’s just that Dasani is as pure as water can get. There are different levels of purity.”
Coca-Cola is investing £7 million in the UK launch of Dasani, part of a worldwide expansion of the brand which is already the second most popular in America.
Although the recommended price is 53p some retailers charge 95p.
Last year, Britons drank more than two billion litres of bottled water worth £1.2 billion, an 18 per cent increase on sales in 2002.
So is Coca-Cola preparing to enter other emerging markets — perhaps that for canned air' “That’s a joke. Right'”