Aquafina pushes light-weight trend

Aquafina. CrushedI have two “Eco-Fina” bottles on my desk right now. One stands about eight inches tall. The other, crushed into a lump of twisted plastic, stands about two and a half inches high. The entire mess – save for the cap and neck, fits in the palm of my hand and weighs about the same as two quarters.

This is the water bottle of the future.

For now, at least.

PepsiCo’s light-weighted bottle for its Aquafina brand weighs in at half that of its 2002 predecessor, and PepsiCo boasts that the new package will save 75 million pounds of plastic per year. It’s not easy to check Pepsi’s math, but it is easy to see that the new package will save energy – and maybe the brand’s image.

Bottled water has been under assault recently, as environmentalists seethe about the energy used to deliver something that flows from every faucet in the U.S. One study pegs the energy required to deliver a bottle of water at 2000 that of tap water, and, where the environmentalists have left off, cash-strapped politicians have picked up. Florida governor Charlie Crist has floated a number of ideas for using bottled water revenues to help fill the state’s budget gap, and New York’s proposed “Bigger Better Bottle Bill,” which would extend a soda-based deposit to include bottled water, has been gaining momentum.

With those forces (and falling sales growth) in mind, bottled water brands have employed a tool belt of marketing tricks to deflect bad press. Some invested in carbon neutrality or water awareness campaigns, and many have invested in light-weight bottles. Water giant Nestle recently submitted testimony to the Connecticut legislature (which extended its bottle bill to include water) saying that it has reduced the plastic in its bottles by 40 percent over the last 15 years, and plans to reduce its plastic content further in 2009.

Which makes Aquafina’s entry the next step in a continuing trend. The Eco-Fina bottle weighs in at 10.9 grams, 15 percent less than the bottles Nestlé uses for its regional labels such as Poland Spring, and 0.1 grams less than Nestlé’s Pure Life bottles.

Still, it won’t be long before another brand introduces an even lighter bottle. Nestlé said it’s already planning one. Sure enough, we’ll see just how small that one crushes up, too. And then the Pepsis and Cokes of the world will have to find a way to carve out even more PET from their shells.

It’s like a race. Bottled water brands are increasing the crushability of their bottles while trying to outrun the outside forces that threaten to crush the category.

For more on the challenges facing bottled water (and how some companies are meeting them) see the cover story in the March issue of Beverage Spectrum Magazine.