Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Message on a Bottle

Message on a Bottle
by Gregory E. Larson

           Pure. Natural. Organic. How many times do we hear these words in commercials or on labels of products we buy? It conjures up images of fresh cow’s milk from the barn, wild blackberries on the vine, or Grandpa’s golden potatoes pulled from the deep topsoil. The words themselves have subjective definitions and they’ve been overused in today’s marketing hype. Have you seen bundles of firewood labelled “organic” and stacked outside the health food stores? It seems that pure, natural, and organic have been thrown into the commercial marketing blender of fads and trends. Makes me wonder if I could bottle and label sewer water as pure, natural, and organic, and defend it as truth in advertising.
          I was drinking a complimentary bottle of water the other day — I make it a point not to spend money on bottled water unless I’m really desperate and thirsty. The thin plastic bottle crackled as I turned it in my hand to read the label. I thought, “Who buys this stuff?”
          It was Nestlé brand, Pure Life bottled water. The label included small, abstract human figures of green, yellow and blue. The printed product description informed me it was Purified water enhanced with minerals for taste. Hmm . . . pure water enhanced and sold as pure. It made me want to further scrutinize the label.
          The next dominant item on the small label was a picture of a woman with long hair and a shiny blouse with an adjacent quote, “Our 12-step Quality Process is our way of showing we care about your family.” Meet our moms: nestlepurelifepromise.com. Below the quote were her title, Production Scheduler and Music Master, and a facsimile of her hand-written signature Christina.
          I wonder what instruments she has mastered. Maybe she could walk around the factory while strumming a guitar, or play the violin to emanate a pure spirit to the workers and the water. Although, the drone of the machinery might drown out the music, but I’m sure the place is a state-of-the-art facility. I'll bet they have a sculpture garden and beds of wildflowers blooming outside the generously-sized factory windows.
          Wow. In three square inches of label, I learned that I was drinking pure water, and the company – or family – has a 12-step quality process . . . and they want me to meet their moms (one of which is a music master) on social media.
          I began to read the fine print. Source: PUBLIC WATER SUPPLY, DALLAS, TX. Whoa! Say it ain’t so. They had me in their grasp and then slapped me back to reality. The additional information explained the tap water is run through reverse osmosis or distillation, and enhanced with a balance of minerals for taste. I began to wonder what really was in the bottle of water, so I read further. Contains: Purified Water, Calcium Chloride, Sodium Bicarbonate, Magnesium Sulfate.
          I figured the sales on bottled water couldn’t amount to much, especially compared to soft drinks. Wrong. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Nestlé brands, Pure Life, and Poland Springs, bottled water have sales that now put the Nestlé bottled water in the No. 3 position for non-alcoholic beverages sold in the U.S., below Coke and Pepsi, but above Dr. Pepper. Projections are that U.S. consumption of bottled water will exceed that of soft drinks by 2017.
          The trend defies logic, in my humble opinion. I assume the product target market is people who aspire to have a lifestyle that is healthy and green (uh-oh, there’s another trendy word). So, let’s understand the basics. Dallas tap water (enhanced, of course) is bottled in containers made of petroleum-based material, shipped to all corners of the country, and the stuff just flies off the shelves at the store. Think of all the energy that is expended by the company to collect it, then add chemicals to the water, bottle it, and ship it via trucks or rail to cities hither and yon. Doesn’t sound like a green solution to me. Why not filter tap water from your kitchen and put it into some of the empty Pure Life bottles? Oops, according to their website literature, they discourage re-use of the bottles. They suggest putting them in recycle bins. Do you think they might want to sell more bottles of water? They least they could do is show us how to repurpose the bottles into hummingbird feeders.
          The next prominent item on the product label was a box titled GOOD TO TALK. Included in the box were a phone number and a website address along with one of those funny black and white squares to be scanned by someone with a smart phone. The label didn’t say what you are supposed to talk about. I wondered if a person could call them and talk about anything — use it as an electronic confessional or a catch-all hotline of sorts.
          I thought about calling the company, but Nestlé is a big global food conglomerate. There was a distinct possibility that I’d get trapped in one of those answering systems with the recorded voices. It was too nice of a day to get frustrated. I didn’t want any latent anger to surface, so I didn’t call. Besides, the odds of talking to Christina, herself, were probably pretty low.
          So, I decided to go to the website: nestlepurelifepromise.com, and clicked the Meet Our Mom tab to learn about Christina. She has a husband and two daughters, ages 7 and 9. She keeps the girls active in piano lessons, art classes, dance, and softball. Christina says it’s all about “finding and spending quality time together as a family.” I think she spends a lot of time driving a van to shuttle the kids. The Dallas – Ft. Worth area has a lot of freeways, plus, she has to drive to and from work every day at the bottling facility. Maybe the company let’s her do the production scheduling from her laptop at home.
          I briefly looked at the main Pure Life website. I didn’t want to get totally sucked into the social media regarding bottled water. There were tabs at the top: Live Well, Live Pure, Live Green. This was way too much information. There were many suggestions on how one can help the environment, you know, like using both sides of a piece of paper, giving away old clothes, and sweeping a driveway instead of washing it with water. There was a picture of a tree sapling with topsoil, cradled in the palms of someone’s hands — a subliminal suggestion, I guess, to plant a tree.
          I shut off the computer for fear of bonding to the product and to Christina’s family. If I bought a lot of Pure Life water and decided to quit drinking it, I would feel guilty that Christina might lose her job. Fortunately, I don’t buy the water, but if current trends hold true, the company’s sales will continue to soar.
          As for me, I think I’ll drink tap water, maybe a Coke, or some local beer, like Boulevard Pale Ale. They probably use good ole’ Kansas or Missouri River water. The city water plant in the West Bottoms is pretty close to the manufacturing facility on Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City, Missouri.
          Come to think of it, I’ll bet there are employees from wholesome families working for the company. They probably have some dads working there. Hey, they should have a website where I could Meet the Dads.
          For the time being, I’ll just sit on the patio, under the trees near the birds and the squirrels, next to nature. There will be no electronic devices or social media to distract me. I’ll sip my favorite beverage, and ponder other significant life questions and issues.
Beverages of choice