Here's a brain teaser: Doctors recommend that for optimal health adults drink between eight and ten cups of water daily. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2003 the median income per household member was $23,535. And an 800-milliliter bottle of VOSS Artesian Water from Norway costs $2.99 per bottle, before tax.
Using the facts listed above, what percentage of their annual income must a median-income-earning, VOSS-sipping household member spend on water to maintain optimal health?
Answer: 27.5 percent or $6,467, roughly three times the average annual income in El Salvador.
OK, I'll be the first to admit that anyone earning the U.S. annual median income has no business spending six large on bottled water. Then again, I doubt that VOSS creator Ole Christian, whose Web site lists skiing and sailing as among his favorite hobbies, had water enthusiasts from the American lower-middle class in mind when he first bottled water from his pristine Norwegian aquifer.
After all, this is primo stuff, not meant to be wasted on the hoi polloi. Gazing at one of these cylindrical glass bottles puts you in the mind of exclusive vodkas and precious perfumes, which, of course, is precisely where Christian's aiming. "It's the only water that can be placed anywhere and instantly instill a premium feel to the setting," reads the copy at the water's Web site, www.vosswater.com.
Read further, though, and you begin to wonder if it wasn't exactly the middle class Christian was thinking of when he first put water to bottle. Not only does the entrepreneur go to great pains to recount the "story" of his water, but he's alarmingly frank about his target audience: arrivistes so insecure about their social standing they'll look to any and all products to differentiate themselves even water.
"[We] knew that premium water was purchased to reflect one's style, taste, and sophistication. Yet, the bottles, for the most part, were unsophisticated and lacked style," writes VOSS bottle designer Neil Kraft. "We thought about the number of brands competing within the premium water category causing a natural resource to become a commodity. Not necessarily because of taste and purity, but because of delivery."
But VOSS and its "sophisticated" delivery system face an inherent problem. You break the seal, gently unscrew the (metallic-colored) cap and watch the waves of clear liquid undulate along the crystalline bottle's slender walls as you pour out the contents, and then you end up with...a glass of water.
Sure, there's not a hint of chlorine or flouride. In fact, a bottle of VOSS registers a zero on the gustatory scale (which, admittedly, is exactly how I prefer my water).
And therein lies the rub. VOSS isn't attempting to make a natural resource more exclusive by enhancing it. The company is taking what is arguably a universal birthright, leaving it wholly unchanged and trying to make it exclusive by cordoning it off in admittedly gorgeous 800-milliliter glass fortresses.
It's great water. But great water is determined on my tongue, anyway, by its absence of flavor, and I can't help but be a little disappointed in the product once it's left its splendid home. It tastes no different from a bottle of Coca-Cola's glorified-tap-water product, Dasani which is to say it tastes like nothing at all.
Then again, I've never drunk water for the taste.