Following Coca Cola’s “Dasani from Sidcup” debacle in 2004, it was the turn of PepsiCo to drink humble pie over mountain-capped labels on its “Aquafina” bottled water. Nestle too came under fire over its “Pure Life” packaging. Ray Coyle takes the waters.
Topic: Labelling and packaging
Who: Corporate Accountability International and PepsiCo
When: September 2007
Where: United States
Law stated as at: 28 September 2007
PepsiCo and Coca Cola Corporation, the two largest producers of bottled water in the United States, have been under pressure for some time from Corporate Accountability International ("CAI"), a vocal pressure group.
Through their "Think Outside the Bottle" campaign in the USA, CAI have sought to highlight what they perceive as "Coke, Pepsi and Nestle privatising our water, bottling it and selling it back to us at prices hundreds, even thousands of times what tap water costs" (see http://www.stopcorporateabuse.org/files/pdfs/Water_Fact_Sheet.pdf). Part of that campaign has been to put pressure on the producers to change the labelling on their bottles to make it clear that the water is from public water sources. Although all three producers state on their web sites that the water comes from public sources, CAI wanted it made clearer on the product packaging.
Their objections to Pepsi's packaging for their Aquafina water revolved around the use of an image of snow-capped mountains on the bottle, which they felt misled consumers into believing it was natural mineral water. PepsiCo did include on the label the initials "P.W.C." standing for "Public Water Source" but this was not clear enough for CAI. Rather than take their complaint through legal channels, they mounted a concerted pressure campaign which included proposing resolutions at the annual general meeting.
Pepsico relents but CAI seek another scalp
On 26 July this year, PepsiCo relented and agreed to spell out on their packaging that Aquafina comes from a public water source. Not content to rest on their laurels, CAI has turned up the pressure on CocaCola, making their campaign for the packaging of their Dasani brand to clearly state that their water comes from public sources their current "Feature campaign".
Not only do they offer the opportunity for visitors to their website to send an e-mail directly to Coca Cola CEO, Neville Isdell, CAI are also gaining airtime for their views. The campaign has featured on ABC World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News , NBC's Today Show and CNN Headline News. At the moment, Coca Cola are holding fast but it may only be a matter of time before the negative publicity forces them to rethink.
Why this matters:
The campaign against PepsiCo and Coca Cola demonstrates that the way in which a product is marketed can be an attractive target for campaign groups. Even though it is the bottling of public water per se and not its packaging that CAI took issue with, they obviously saw the packaging as an easier target.
Even if a product's packaging is legally compliant, (and there are specific UK regulations governing labelling of bottled mineral waters) producers of consumer goods may find themselves under attack from pressure groups to reveal more information than is legally required. This will particularly be the case in controversial products. Unfortunately, it is becoming more difficult to predict which products will be controversial. As environmental awareness increases, many seemingly harmless products can be brought into the spotlight because of the way or the location in which they are produced. Who would have thought ten years ago that putting publicly available water in a bottle and selling it would attract so much criticism?