The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 23, 2013

Ojanpa: Water is the new Coke -- for now

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

NEW ULM — For thousands of years, water was our preferred drink of choice.

In 2013, the most fundamental liquid on the planet apparently has regained that status.

Water’s “reemergence” as our No. 1 beverage actually made headlines this week. It seems that plain old H2O has toppled soda pop from its 20-year position as Americans’ primary go-to gulp.

Conventional wisdom is saying we’re reverting to water because we’ve been enlightened about the health negatives posed by sugary pops. Also because we don’t want to be fat...ter.

I’m sure there’s a lot of truth in that. But there’s also a lot of truth in this: We’re drinking more water not necessarily because we want to but because marketers want us to.

Sometime in the late 1990s, soft drink companies and other opportunists discovered they could actually get people to buy soda-size bottles of plain water, marketed under the banner of good health and sold at grossly inflated prices.

At that point, the soda companies began to win hearts and malleable minds. The Coca-Colas and Pepsis of the world are very good at this sort of thing, so it was only a matter of time before water sold at soda pop prices would usurp consumption of said soda pop.

Brands of “premium” bottled water emerged and quickly become fashionable. Soon, absurdity held sway.

The FIJI brand sold for $6 a six-pack, Glenwood Inglewood boasted that its drinking water was “Great for drinking,” and Evian, which is “naive” spelled backward, gained cult-like appeal.

And no one cared — and they still don’t — that the liquid in these cute little bottles of glorified tap water costs far more ounce for ounce than gasoline.

(An aside: At Mankato municipal water rates, several hundred gallons of water costs residential users about $2.50. That means you could drink enough of this fine and refreshing tap water to kill yourself — and still get change back from a penny.) 

But a funny thing happened along the soda companies’ paths to profiting mightily from water: Their soda sales went down due to the uptick in water sales.

But these companies are nothing if not adaptable. They simply began selling “unsoda,” which essentially is flavored sweet water marketed as more healthy than soda. Then they added fizz to the stuff because Americans love their fizzy drinks.  

They gave the stuff names like “Fruitwater,” which contains not one iota of fruit juice, and “Vitaminwater,” which sounds pretty healthy even though it contains nearly as much sugar as a can of Coke.

What’s more, health-water-loving Americans will soon be able to buy a $3,900 Samsung refrigerator that dispenses soda water from the same mechanism that doles out water and ice.

One small step for soda water, one giant leap for the eventual dispensing of soda pop straight from your fridge’s door.

So who’s really in control of this water-over-pop trend, them or us?


Brian Ojanpa is a Free Press staff writer. Call him at 344-6316 or email