Water is one of the fastest growing assets that Nestlé has
The poorest pay the most for clean drinking water. A top profit for Nestlé.
"Water must be our top priority" - Peter Brabeck, Chairman of Nestlé
Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck is leaving the human rights forum Lucerne
The wells have dried up next to Nestlé's Sheikupura factory in Pakistan
Pure Life is one of Nestlés top brands
"Nestlé is a predator, a water hunter." - Maude Barlow
Nestlé pays $10 for a tanker load of water. Once bottled in PET, Nestlé charges $50,000.
Closed gates for Investigator Res Gehriger. For Nestlé it is "the wrong film at the wrong time".
about the film
While the world's population continues to grow at an alarming rate, water is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity. The Swiss film "Bottled Life" documents the booming business with bottled water, by focusing on the global leader in this lucrative multi-billion dollar market – namely, the Nestlé corporation in Switzerland. Nestlé currently controls more than 70 of the world's bottled water brands, among them Perrier, San Pellegrino and Vittel.
Nestlé's annual sales of bottled water alone total some CHF 10 billion. And yet the company prefers not to discuss its water business – as Swiss journalist Res Gehriger discovered when researching this documentary film. The Nestlé management refused to give any interviews or assistance or to provide information. But Gehriger persisted, and discovered just how controversial and conflict-laden the company's international operations are.
Water war in the USA
To be able to sell and make money from water, you first have to own it. In the case of Nestlé this applies to many parts of the United States, by far the biggest market for its booming bottled water business. Whoever owns land or has acquired leasing rights is permitted to pump as much water as he likes. In the rural state of Maine, Nestlé has purchased many such water rights and resources. Every year the company pumps out millions of cubic metres of water, for transportation in road tankers to huge bottling factories. In the small towns of Fryeburg, Newfield and Shapleigh, journalist Res Gehriger witnessed how Nestlé tries to stifle and suppress local opposition to its operations with an army of powerful PR consultants, lawyers and lobbyists.
Nestlé's expansion strategy
"Bottled Life" focuses a critical spotlight on Nestlé's global expansion strategy in the business of bottled water. In the United States and Europe, the company sells mainly spring water with a designation of origin. In developing countries, however, the corporation pursues another concept – namely Nestlé Pure Life. This product is purified groundwater, enriched with a Nestlé mixture of minerals. Nestlé Pure Life was the brainchild of Peter Brabeck, a Nestlé man almost all his life, a former CEO and currently Chairman of the Board. Today Nestlé Pure Life is the world's top-selling brand of bottled water.
Test market Pakistan
Res Gehriger's research took him to Pakistan, Nestlé's test market for its Pure Life product. The company refused him access to its production plant in Pakistan – but Gehriger did get to see something of life outside the factory fence. In the nearby village groundwater levels have fallen dramatically, and the village fountain water is nothing more than foul-smelling sludge.
Nestlé Pure Life is a clever business concept. And particularly so in the developing world. In countries such as Pakistan where the public water supply has failed or is close to collapse, the company proudly presents its bottled water as a safe health-enhancing alternative. But for the overwhelming majority of consumers, it is an expensive out-of-reach alternative. In Lagos, for example, the mega metropolis of Nigeria/Africa with its population of millions, water always comes at a price. The scenario of a city in which everyone has to pay for life-giving water, is already a sad reality in Lagos. Families eking out an existence in the slums spend half their meagre budget on canisters of water. The upper class? They purchase Nestlé Pure Life.
Whitewashing the water business
Nestlé places great priority on promoting its image. And when it comes to water, it's Peter Brabeck in particular who does the promoting. As CEO – and even more so after becoming Chairman of the Board in 2005 – he developed a communications strategy which operates under such noble pretences as "Corporate Social Responsibility" and "Creating Shared Value." A preached philosophy – but a practised one?
In researching this film, journalist Res Gehriger comes to a sad and sobering conclusion. It is that of a company intent on amassing resource rights worldwide. With the aim of dominating the global water market of the future.
- Bottled water is one of the company's key strategic money makers: Nestlé has an annual turnover of CHF 110 billion – of which almost 10% is derived from the bottled water business.
- Nestlé has achieved world dominance in the bottled water business – by taking over such leading brands as Perrier.
- Nestlé is constantly buying up additional valuable groundwater resources – in order to satisfy the massive demand it has created for bottled water.
- Nestlé is taking advantage of the often out-of-date water rights in many locations by operating to the limits of legality – not only in developing countries but also in the USA and elsewhere in the industrialized world.
- Nestlé spares no effort in exerting financial, legal and political pressure – on anyone campaigning for water ownership as a public property and human right.
- Nestlé is using up precious natural water resources – to create and commercialize "new" water.
- Nestlé promotes bottled water with extensive global marketing and advertising campaigns – undermining awareness for the necessity of a functioning public water supply system.
- Nestlé promotes itself as a benefactor – by donation and PR campaigns at local level. But at the same time it manipulates public opinion into believing that improvements in production and distribution are having a sustainable effect.
- Nestlé creates dependence on bottled water – in particular where public waters supplies are close to collapse, and notably in developing countries.
- Nestlé's bottled water business is not simply a business like any other – it is a business with the sole natural resource essential for humanity's survival.
A short and simplified answer to a complicated question:
Natural mineral water
Natural mineral water is water from a geographically and clearly localized spring which fulfils legal requirements concerning mineral content and composition (for example, Perrier or Vittel).
In the United States, spring water is bottled water which may be blended from various springs (as in our film, for example, Poland Spring in the state of Maine). However, it does not qualify as natural or classic mineral water.
In European Union countries bottled water defined as spring water must be filled direct from the source. However less stringent legal requirements apply concerning the mineral composition.
Bottled water companies like Nestlé, Coca Cola or Pepsi Cola often pump water from normal groundwater or buy it from public drinking water supply systems (in our film, for example, Nestlé Pure Life).
Company founder dealt in water as early as 1843
In 1843, Henri Nestlé – pioneer of milk powder for babies – set up a water factory in Vevey on Lake Geneva. From piped water he created and commercialized “mineral water”, selling his product to local restaurants. Later in life he purchased a retirement residence in nearby Glion, where he also acquired water rights. He used the water for his home and extensive gardens, donating the rest to the local population.
Nestlé on a shopping spree – from Vittel to Perrier and San Pellegrino
In 1969 Nestlé acquired a holding in the French company, Société Générale des Eaux Minérales de Vittel. That was the company's entry into the world of water. And bottled water in particular.
In 1976 world market leader Perrier (then a French company with tradition) entered the US market. Nestlé took over distribution of Perrier's popular teardrop-shaped bottles – and watched and wondered as the Perrier product quickly made its mark on young urban America.
Bottled water soon became an attractive alternative to sweetened soft drinks such as Coca Cola and Pepsi. It was thirst-quenching, calorie-free and in keeping with the trend towards more healthy nutrition. The bottled water industry expanded, sales were soon soaring.
In 1989 Nestlé Chairman Helmut Maucher and Head of Marketing Peter Brabeck decided to make bottled water production a priority, with the aim of becoming world leader. Nestlé launched a takeover bid for Perrier and after a bitter battle won control of the French company. With the acquisition of Perrier, many regional brands in the USA – among them popular Poland Spring – also came under the control of Nestlé.
As with Perrier, Nestlé also swallowed up the Italian San Pellegrino brand in 1997.
One water for the whole world – Pure Life
Vittel, Perrier and San Pellegrino are mineral waters which come from a single specific source.
Poland Spring and other regional US brands are described by Nestlé as natural spring water. These waters come from different sources which are often a long distance from each other.
Mineral and natural spring waters are targeted mainly at consumers with higher purchasing power or (in developed countries) at a broad middle class.
In 1997 Nestlé started to develop a new product created from purified ground water enriched with a new special mix of minerals. The advantage of this water is that it can be produced worldwide with the same taste. The name – Nestlé Pure Life. With this product Nestlé began targeting a vast new market, namely consumers in developing countries. Today, Pure Life is the top selling bottled water on the planet.
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Director URS SCHNELL
Investigation RES GEHRIGER
Director of Photography LAURENT STOOP
Editor SYLVIA SEUBOTH-RADTKE
Creative Director DODO HUNZIKER
Script URS SCHNELL/RES GEHRIGER
Narration written by RES GEHRIGER/MARTIN WITZ
Voice of German Narration HANSPETER MÜLLER-DROSSAART
Voice of English Narration TREVOR J. ROLING
Music IVO UBEZIO
Sound Design BJÖRN WIESE
Sound Editing & Mix MANUEL FISCHER
Colourist PETER PFANNER
Musicians RICCARDO PARRINO/THOMAS AESCHBACHER/OLI KUSTER
Pakistani Chant MATT HILL/MANICKAM YOGESWARAN
Direct Sound Recording DO2
Music Mix BEN MÜHLETHALER
Narration Recording DAVID BOLLINGER/WOLFGANG SCHUBERT/FLO GOETZE/ PETER VON SIEBENTHAL
Production Manager MAX KARLSSON/METTE GUNNAR
Production Assistant MANUEL UEBERSAX
Location Manager New York DENISE LANGENEGGER
Location Manager Addis Abeba FIREW AYELE
Location Manager Lagos OJI CHUKWUEMEKA RODERICK
Location Manager Lahore MICHAEL KASHIF/SAMUEL ASIF
Helicopter Camera SAMUEL GYGER
M. YOUSAF AWAN
SIMON HUBER BRUNO
ZEMP JULIEN CASSEZ
Translation German-French PIERRE SOLTERMANN/LAURENCE STRASSER
Translation German-English COLIN FARMER
Translation Punjabi M. AYYUB KULLA
Translation Egun DAVIES FALEYE/MATHEW
Translation Igbo FRED PRAISE ABIMBOLA
Translation Somali INTER TRANSLATIONS SA
SCHWEIZER FERNSEHEN SRF – URS AUGSTBURGER
SRG-SSR PACTE – URS FITZE/ALBERTO CHOLLET
ARTE G.E.I.E – CHRISTIAN COOLS
WESTDEUTSCHER RUNDFUNK WDR – JUTTA KRUG
Public Funding BERNER FILMFÖRDERUNG, KANTON BERN
BERNER FILMFÖRDERUNG, STADT BERN
BUNDESAMT FÜR KULTUR, SEKTION FILM
Legal Advisor RUDOLF MAYR VON BALDEGG
RUQUYA ABDI AHMED
HOWARD K. DEARBORN
DENISE L. CARPENTER
AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
GILL SHANTEE C
EHSAN UL HAQUE
MUHAMAD SHAMUN DAGAR
JOHN O. EGBUTA
KELVIN OLAGEMJU KAYODE
JOHN V. JOHNSON