How Del Boy Destroyed Coca-Cola’s Bottled Water Empire

Coca-Cola is one of the biggest drinks companies in the world, but because of this, its marketing failures are just as huge.

Whilst the fiasco that is New Coke is the biggest soft drinks failure in the history of cheap soft drinks, the downfall of the Dasani brand of bottled water in the UK was more immediate, more devastating and more bizarre, involving an episode of Only Fools and Horses in the process.


Set Up For Success

Dasani was originally released in the United States in 1999 as a bottled water brand to compete with those launched by Nestlé and other companies.

Unlike in the UK and Europe, where there is a perception that bottled water is either spring water or mineral water, Dasani, in fact, came from the tap.

They used standard water supplies in the region they bottled the water, filtered it using a complex process known as reverse osmosis to remove impurities, and then add back minerals to give it a particular mineral water-like taste.

It did very well in the United States, as well as in Canada and some select markets in Latin America, and so Coca-Cola launched a £70m campaign to bring the water to the UK, and this is where the problems began.


Trotter’s Independent Water

Whilst the rules surrounding the classification of different waters is complex, there are generally three types of bottled water that are legally recognised:

  • Natural Mineral Water
  • Spring Water
  • Bottled Drinking Water

However, outside of office water coolers and very cheap brands of water, most bottled water you could buy from the shop was mineral water, such as Buxton, Highland Spring and Aqua Pura.

They source their water from a natural spring and keep the process as natural and sustainable as possible.

Dasani was sourced from the tap, and marketed as being especially “pure”, which led to early criticisms that they were selling tap water with a 3000 per cent markup.

It immediately drew comparisons to the 1992 Christmas episode of Only Fools and Horses, where Del Boy sells “Peckham Spring”, bottled tap water he claimed was a mineral water brand.

In early 2004, the first signs of trouble were found as the Food Standards Agency stepped in to see if Dasani had deceived the public through its use of the word “pure”.

Technically, reverse osmosis is a purification process but the FSA was concerned they were using the term to imply the water came from a pure source when it came from a tap nine miles away from Peckham. 

What made it worse, and cemented the comparisons to Del Boy, was when there was a contamination scandal. One of the minerals Dasani used to give its water a mineral taste had higher levels than allowed of bromate, an ingredient that is believed to cause cancer.

In the Only Fools and Horses episode, Peckham Spring is found to have been contaminated by a substance Del Boy, Trigger and Denzil dumped into the reservoir, which gives the water a distinctive yellow glow.

Whilst the levels of bromate were unlikely to be high enough to cause a problem, Coca-Cola recalled all unopened bottles and immediately cancelled the brand and any plans to expand it into Europe.

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