Take a few ounces of water. Garnish with an elegant bottle and a large price tag. Convince Americans it's cool. Somehow, in the 1990s, a French company called Perrier did that, and now, America is getting soaked.
Today, Evian has surpassed Perrier in sales; it's now the chic French water of choice. It costs more than gasoline -- about $5 a gallon -- and if you'd rather wear it than drink it, you can pay $10 for a five-ounce aerosol can (ingredients: "aqua" and nitrogen).
Then there are Aquafina, Dasani, and the dozens of new brands of bottled water that have jumped into this billion-dollar business, including bizarre ones like Venus, the Water for Women, and Trump Ice, with the Donald scowling on the label. I'd have to be very thirsty to buy that.
Water comes out of public fountains for free. It comes out of your tap for pennies. Why buy it in bottles?
"Because it tastes better," people told us. So ABC News ran a taste test. We put two imported waters, Evian and Iceland Spring, up against Aquafina (America's best seller), American Fare (Kmart's discount brand), and some water from a public drinking fountain in the middle of New York City.
We asked people to rate the waters bad, average, or great. Many said one of the waters was bad. Which one? Why, Monsieur, that would be Evian, the most expensive, which came in last in our unscientific test. Evian had no comment. The water our testers like most came from Kmart: American Fare ranked first in our unscientific test, and it costs a third of what Evian costs. (Maybe that's why "Evian," spelled backward, is "naive.") Aquafina ranked second. Poland Spring came in fifth.
Tied for third were the water from Iceland and the New York tap water -- water that may have come as much as 100 miles through the antique pipes of New York before emerging from that water fountain. Even people who said they didn't like tap water liked it when they weren't told it was tap water. Of course, your local tap water may not be as tasty, but you owe yourself a taste test before you squander more money on the bottled stuff.
For a show on the Showtime cable channel, satirists Penn and Teller got a trendy California restaurant to let them fool customers with a "water steward." Like a wine steward, he had lots of fancy bottles, and most diners said they loved their elegant waters. "Oh, yeah, definitely better than tap water!" said one. But tap water is just what it was -- the "water steward" filled the fancy bottles using the hose on the restaurant's patio.