MARCH 31, 2004
Coca-Cola bottled water goes down the drain

'Pure' water launch hit by news that it is treated tap water and contains cancer-causing chemical

By Neo Hui Min

LONDON - Soft drink giant Coca-Cola's multimillion-dollar bid to tap into Europe's bottled water market may go down as one of the most disastrous product launches in corporate history.

The company has been forced to pull the plug on the spring launch of its 'pure' water Dasani in France and Germany, following some horrendous publicity in Britain where it was rolled out a month ago with a £7 million (S$21.5 million) marketing budget.

It turns out that the product of a 'highly sophisticated purification process' selling for a re- commended 95 pence (S$2.90) per 500ml was far from the 'Real Thing'.

Humiliatingly, it was first revealed that the bottles were filled with treated tap water from Coca-Cola's factory in south-east London - a long way from the French Alps where some competing brands are bottled at source.

Far worse, the company then found its water contained levels of the carcinogenic chemical bromate that were twice as high as that allowed by the UK Food Standards Agency.

More than 500,000 bottles were immediately pulled from shop shelves.

On Thursday, the company said it will delay a relaunch in Britain and the push into France and Germany would have to wait.

Coca-Cola said the product was withdrawn 'due to a quality issue' and that it has 'decided not to re-introduce Dasani into Great Britain at this time'.

It stressed that this is 'an isolated and resolved incident', but it also postponed the launch in France and Germany 'as the timing is no longer considered optimal'.

A Coca-Cola spokesman told The Straits Times that the company would try again with Dasani in a British market worth £1 billion but could not say when.

Through Dasani, Coca-Cola was hoping to grab a share of the massive European water market dominated by Nestle and Danone.

But the company appears to have run into troubled waters from the start.

It was slammed by the British media after it emerged that the purification process based on Nasa spacecraft technology was in fact reverse osmosis used in many modest domestic water purifiers.

Bacteria, minerals and toxins had been filtered out but, in the process of returning some essential minerals, Coca Cola had added calcium chloride to 'deliver the required calcium'.

What it did not realise was that 'the high level of bromide contained in the calcium chloride' would form bromate.

Long-term exposure to the chemical increases the risk of cancer.

While the Food Standards Agency said that the amount in Dasani posed 'no immediate risk to public health', the le- vels presented 'an unnecessary risk'.

Consumers have certainly been put off the product.

Mrs Ann Clarke, 34, who was buying bottled water at a supermarket, described Dasani's launch as 'quite a disgrace'.

Asked about the postponed relaunch, she said: 'I guess they're right to hold off the relaunch. Frankly, from what I've heard, I don't see why I should choose their product over all the others you see here.'

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