The story comes up every few months and was running hot after a recent Choice article* a couple of weeks ago: the cost of bottled water versus tap, the quality of bottled water versus tap, the use of plastics for bottled water versus tap….. And yet like a Wallabies fan watching a game against the All Blacks – nothing changes!
Research tells us the rise of bottled water continues. The number of Australians consuming bottled water was around 5.3 million in 2015, up from 4.9 million the year before (Roy Morgan Research).
Beneath the surface the debate around bottled versus tap water and people’s preferences is complicated. It includes brand, water quality, cost, packaging, convenience, health, environment, cultural understanding and the list goes on. There is no doubt that media stories around PFAS, microplastics and high profile self-appointed health experts taking up issues of fluoridation, all impact the brand of tap water.
It's a question of trust at the highest order, and trust comes through transparency.
While bottled water companies have millions to throw at marketing their product, water businesses do not and in some cases cannot. WSAA members around Australia are engaged in campaigns to encourage customers back to tap (See Sydney Water’s #Aquavist, the Victorian water utilities’ Choose Tap and QUU's Turn to tap campaigns) and yet it seems there are still significant roadblocks.
So how can we build upon the existing positive view of tap water (our most recent national customer survey says 60% of customers use water straight from the tap and another 22% use filtered tap water) and make it the preferred choice for customers once again?
We need to maintain and increase transparency about the quality and the processes underpinning our core product. Again and again, Australian water utilities are recognised independently through the Bureau of Meteorology’s annual National Performance Report for meeting some of the strictest water quality guidelines in the world.
We need to draw customers into the conversation and keep up the narrative on the benefits of tap water. The bottled water companies have made millions of dollars by convincing customers to buy bottled water because it’s convenient, healthy and from 'natural' sources.
We need to make sure engagement with customers includes the story of the pristine catchments our tap water is sourced from and remind them that it’s cheaper, healthy and safe.
We need to take the initiative and make behavioural suggestions that mean they want to choose tap first before bottled. It might sound trite but the cost debate doesn’t resonate with everyone (although at around 1c a litre it truly is a bargain!) and some customers are just not aware of the high quality of drinking water in Australia.
No doubt the challenge will be the same in five and 10 years but with all our efforts, let’s hope the conversation starts to shift and customers see the benefits of choosing tap.
*Choice: Is bottled water safer than tap?