Is it the real thing?
Taste testers in the North-East yesterday declared that Coca Cola's controversial bottled mineral water is certainly not `the real thing'.
The soft drinks giant's new water, Dasani, has created a ripple in the bottled water market in its distinctive, clear-blue bottles and exotic name.
But its drive was thrown into disarray by revelations that the water was actually from a factory tap in Sidcup, Kent. Drinks chiefs tried to pour water over the claims saying that its healthy thirst quencher was not just from the pipe - but was subjected to a "highly sophisticated purification process".
But samplers yesterday said it was no different from our very own Northumbrian tapwater.
After tasting both tap water and Dasani, Stewart Lee, 21, a student of Newton Hall, County Durham said: "There is no difference between the two. I don't know which one is which and they taste the same. If Coca-Cola are taking water from the tap for this drink then it is not good and I won't be buying it."
Angela Brown, 23, a post-graduate student from Durham came to the same conclusion. She said: "I think it is false advertising to claim it is a pure drink and if I wanted to drink tap water I would fill up at home."
Peter McGinn, a 17-year-old sixth form student of Newton Hall, said: "There is no difference between the two. I bought a bottle of Dasani because it was cheap and because it's new, but if the reports are true then it is still a total rip-off."
Dasani claims to be made by a "state-of-the-art reverse osmosis process that precisely delivers pure, still water" which it boasts on labels on bottles selling for up to 95p for 500ml.
But the process of producing the water - taking pure tap water, removing material through purification and adding calcium, magnesium and sodium bicarbonate for taste, cannot be classed as `pure'.
Northumbrian Water said the drink was misleading customers by saying the process was pure. Communications Advisor Cara Hall said: "Our water is fresh - it takes just a day or two for it to reach the tap. The water is strictly regulated for quality by the Drinking Water Inspectorate and is found to be 99.3pc pure. We have 2.6 million customers with 800 million litres of water per day.
"Tap water is of very high quality and it is much better value for money - at about 60p per day for a household's entire water needs.
"Our view is why buy bottled water? If people want to they can, but tests prove that people can seldom tell the difference between bottled water and tap. We have installed 76 tap water coolers in 54 schools across the region and our message is keep on drinking tap water - it's good for you. it's cheap and it's easy."
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) contacted the local authority covering Coca-Cola's headquarters yesterday asking it to look into whether the term breached labelling guidelines.
The FSA's guidance from July 2002 states the term `pure' should only apply to "single ingredient foods or to highlight the quality of ingredients".
A spokesman said: "This bottled water does not appear to follow our labelling guidance on the use of the term `pure', but it does seem to comply with legislation about what can be sold as bottled water.
"The FSA will be asking the London Borough of Hillingdon, the local authority where Coca-Cola's UK headquarters are based, to investigate the company's use of the term `pure'.
"Consumers may not realise that there are three types of water sold in bottles - natural mineral water, spring water and drinking water (which can be tap water).
"If a product is not labelled as mineral water or spring water, it will, in fact, be bottled drinking water."
A Coca-Cola spokesperson last night said: "We work closely with all regulatory bodies and in this instance we are fully satisfied that we are compliant with all guidelines and regulations."