How many retailers looked at the café and restaurant scene in Europe in the 1960s- 1970s and wondered if the bottled water business had a future in Australia?
In the mid 1970s the local water Hepburn Spa trickled out of the Farmer Bros. stores and I recall a need to stock exotic waters like Perrier and a few from Italy.
I became interested enough in the future of bottled waters to investigate the local sources and after a study of the topographic and geological maps around Hepburn Spa (Victoria) ordered air photos to help plot likely hot spring locations.
However this became just one of many business schemes that died though looking back was not crazy.
Today half an aisle length in what supermarkets call the middle rows is devoted to waters of all types covering all prices. Indeed the business is worth over $700 million each year and the biggest sellers are not the cheapest.
The other day as a strolled along the water display at my local IGA Tanunda I thought what a poor job supermarkets have done with own labels as who would want to buy a Black and Gold bottle even when its much cheaper than the smart looking Mount Franklin.
In retail you can take the easy money for a while but if you wait too long you risk destroying the respect of customers who trust where they shop will also look after their interests. No matter what the product, when customers realise the market is being rorted a retailer must act and drive the price down. And if need be the retailer should manufacture the product themselves.
You see the oddity about water is that it is basically free and at last it has dawned upon supermarkets they can no longer balance the easy profit they make against the responsibility they must show to customers over price.
So at last the water war is growing hotter as the line extensions of expensive waters are deleted to make room for lower priced 'own brand' waters.
A few years back I was attempting to tutor a young women about money and asked her, 'what is the item you can get for free which costs a lot to buy.' My question on the virtues of thrift brought no response even though she was drinking water from an expensive bottle.
Still the story of supermarkets is nothing compared to the gross pretension of the new novelty of water sommeliers. I realise that if being a wine sommelier is a crowded market you must look for another angle but how do they keep a straight face when sniffing and swirling waters.
Benjamin and I saw something similar in the wine business back in 2004 though when we began we did not set out to right any wrongs. What we did see was a product that needed a big shake-up in how it was sold.
You see the deep problem of the wine business is that it pretends that because some wines are a little better than others you must pay a great deal more for the pleasure of drinking them.
Two things are now needed; smart customers who understand this and a range of retailers who can provide an alternative to branded wines.
Promoting expensive waters is a fantasy but so is promoting $50 wines which at best are a few percent better than those costing $15.