Supermarkets are selling bottled tap water to millions of unsuspecting customers.
Bottles of Tesco ‘Everyday Value Still Water’ and Asda ‘Smartprice Still Water’ are sitting on shelves alongside big brands of mineral water such as Evian and Perrier. However, there is no explanation on the label of these supermarket brands that the contents are simply tap water.
Display: Asda's 17p Still Water next to other, more well-known, mineral waters
On the face of it, the supermarket water, which costs 17p for a two-litre bottle, offers remarkable value compared with the big brands. In reality it is no more than a filtered version of the mains water that comes out of the tap at a cost of just a third of a penny a litre.
This means the supermarkets and their suppliers are enjoying a mark-up of around 2,500 per cent for filtering the water – something the mains suppliers say is unnecessary. They then put it into plastic bottles and ship it to thousands of stores across the country.
It echoes one of the best-loved episodes of the BBC’s Only Fools and Horses, featuring David Jason as the entrepreneurial Del Boy, of Trotters Independent Traders.
In pursuit of his millionaire dreams, Del came up with the idea of bottling tap water and selling it as the exclusive ‘Peckham Spring’. Just as Del Boy failed to mention the tap water origins of Peckham Spring, so Tesco and Asda have left this important detail off their labels.
Tesco sells the filtered mains water under the name of Everyday Value Still Water which can be bought in a two-litre bottle for 17p or six 500ml bottles for £1. On the label it says ‘Just water, nothing added’. There is a carbonated version which also sells for 17p.
Sneaky? Asda has attempted to defend its selling of what is essentially tap water in bottles
French connection? A Tesco representative said that its bottled water originated from France - but just what is the truth?
Asda’s product is sold as Smartprice Still Water at 17p for two litres or 88p for a pack of six 330ml bottles.
The prices look cheap compared with the 88p for a two-litre bottle of Evian Mineral Water, 69p for Highland Spring, or £1 for a 750ml bottle of Perrier.
The trade body for the nation’s mains water suppliers, Water UK, insists the product coming out of the taps is cheap, healthy and safe, with absolutely no reason to filter it.
According to the latest report from the Drinking Water Inspectorate, 99.96 per cent of all samples are within health and safety standards. Jo Tanner, of Water UK, said: ‘UK tap water is incredibly safe.
‘We really are a gold standard in terms of water quality. In terms of health and safety there is no need to filter mains water.
‘The idea of selling filtered tap water in supermarkets has a whiff of Del Boy and Peckham Spring about it. I can see it would be a nice money-making wheeze.’
When asked about the origins of its value water, a Tesco spokesman initially offered a completely inaccurate explanation.
She said: ‘My understanding from speaking to our water buyer is that it originates from a spring in France.’ Asked whether it was filtered mains tap water, she said: ‘No, absolutely not. No, its origin is French, but it is bottled in the UK – I think somewhere in the West Midlands.
‘The bottle doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it is. It is categorically not water from a tap and put into a bottle.’
Remember this? The revelations echo the famous Only Fools And Horses storyline where Del Boy and Rodney tried to pass off tap water as 'Peckham Spring'
Later, the company confirmed that the water comes from the UK mains and has been filtered to remove chlorine and what it said were ‘other impurities’ found in tap water.
Tesco claimed that while the water originated from the mains, the fact it is then filtered means it is unfair to describe it as tap water.
It said: ‘Our Everyday Value Still Water comes from UK sources and is filtered to improve the taste and remove impurities. Tesco sells a wide range of waters to suit all tastes and budgets.
‘All of our products are clearly labelled so customers know what they’re buying.’
Asda confirmed that its Smartprice water is filtered mains water. Its manufacturer gets its supplies from the tap water firm Yorkshire Water before filtering and bottling it. A spokesman argued the water was cheaper than buying a water filter and jug for the home.
Asda said: ‘Our two-litre bottle is 17p. For comparison – if a customer bought a Brita water filter jug at £16 and used it for the recommended 40 gallons, it would cost 21p to produce two litres of filtered water. We’re saving our customers time and money – as well as providing a container.’
In 2004, Coca-Cola ran into trouble after it began selling the premium bottled water Dasani, which turned out to be filtered tap water from Sidcup in Kent.
Jeanette Longfield, of the campaigning ethical food group Sustain, said: ‘First Del Boy tried it with Peckham Spring, then Coca-Cola with Dasani water, and now Tesco.
‘When people are struggling with their grocery bills the last thing they need is to be ripped off by eye-watering mark-ups and misleading labelling.
‘I hope people return to trustworthy tap water – saving money, saving energy and saving waste in the process.’
The Tesco and Asda still water bottles sit alongside big-name mineral water brands on the shelves.
At Tesco, the Everyday Value Still Water features a ‘best seller’ sticker while at Asda shoppers are drawn to a promotion sign advertising its 17p low price.
The Tesco brand adds the slogan: ‘Just water, nothing added.’ Asda’s tells customers it is ‘Good for hydration’ and its ingredients are ‘Still Water (100%)’.
The bottles also sit alongside the supermarkets’ own brand mineral waters. Tesco’s Ashbeck and Asda’s Eden Falls – at 42p and 45p respectively – list their spring source.