Shoppers pay $37 for 'raw' water as natural food movement grows
- Expanding consumer interest in "raw" water is being met by thriving upstarts who either deliver unfiltered, untreated, unsterilized water or set up a home water collection system, according to The New York Times.
- The untreated water goes by many names: raw, live, and unprocessed. The company Live Water charges $37 for a glass jug of 2.5 gallons of water, and $15 for refills at one San Francisco grocery store.
- The unfiltered water movement was born out of an effort to avoid tap water, and fluoride that is commonly added to it, in particular. Bottled spring water is also viewed skeptically by raw water enthusiasts, as it is treated and filtered to make it safe to drink.
As the natural and raw food movement grows, unfiltered water is joining the ranks. There is concern by health advocacy experts, though, that this trend is putting consumers at risk for illnesses more commonly associated with countries that don't have widespread access to clean drinking water.
Upstarts selling unfiltered water have identified a growing segment and are potentially expanding the market for water, which toppled soda to become the No. 1 beverage choice. In addition, home installation of a water collection system can fetch a pretty penny. Zero Mass Water sells a system called 'Source,' for $4,500. It collects water from the atmosphere around the home, and stores it for later use.
Consumer interest in unfiltered water stems from the theory that tap water is compromised by the fluoride and the lead pipes through which it often flows. Raw water loyalists are skeptical of tap and bottled water, but appear unfazed by the laundry list of natural born pathogens, like E. coli, found in untreated water.
In many ways the demand for raw water mirrors that of the raw milk movement. In 2017, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 96% of all foodborne illness from dairy products comes from raw milk and cheese. According to statistics in the study, unpasteurized products cause 840 times more illnesses and 45 times more hospitalizations than pasteurized counterparts. Still, a certain group of consumers see pasteurization as the greater evil, much like raw water drinkers view fluoride as the more dangerous contaminant.
Would any other product be able to sell a lack of treatment as a premium quality? Considering the popularity of raw milk, and countless raw food products, this could very well be just the tip of the iceberg.
The growing premium water space is seeing a variety of upstarts try new concepts. AquaBotanical collects water removed from fruits and vegetables when they are condensed into concentrate, and then purifies it for drinking purposes.
The big difference between AquaBotanical and raw water brands is safety. Regulators, such as the Food and Drug Administration, don't spell out how bottled water must be treated, but rather allows for a certain amount of acceptable chemicals and bacteria. A critical point will come if there is a widespread illness tied to an unfiltered water brand and if any recall is issued.