Coke puts bottled water plant on ice

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First there was the revelation that its "pure, still" bottled water was a processed version of the mains supply in Sidcup. Then there was the small matter of contamination by a cancer-causing chemical.

First there was the revelation that its "pure, still" bottled water was a processed version of the mains supply in Sidcup. Then there was the small matter of contamination by a cancer-causing chemical.

Yesterday, after a product launch from hell and a weekend of crisis meetings by senior executives, Coca-Cola surrendered to the inevitable and turned off the tap on Dasani in Britain. The soft drinks conglomerate said last night that it was postponing the reintroduction to the British market of the brand, its latest attempt to secure a meaningful share of the £1.1bn bottled-water sector.

The disappearance from shop shelves of Dasani, which was launched in February with a £7m marketing budget, was accompanied by an announcement that the launch of the brand in France and Germany - planned over the next two months - has also been postponed. The company said that despite the "isolated and resolved incident" involving levels of bromate in British stocks, the Continental roll-out of Dasani had been called off because "the timing is no longer considered optimal".

Marketing experts said such drastic action was probably the only option left to Coca-Cola. Rita Clifton, chairwoman of the brand consultancy Interbrand, said: "It has been pretty disastrous. The bottled-water market in Britain is all about the purity of the source, the mythology surrounding it. Coca-Cola were on the back foot from early on and it would have cost a lot of money to put it right."

Despite comparisons between the PR disaster and Coca-Cola's inauspicious attempt to modify the flavour of the soft-drink in 1985, managers at the company were doing their best to pour a little oil on their troubled water. A spokeswoman said: "This is not about financial considerations. It is about listening to our consumers and our customers. Everyone has been asking what we will do with Dasani. At this time we cannot say when it will be re-introduced."

The decision to withdraw Dasani in Britain caps a calamitous three weeks for the brand whose name, the fruit of much alphabet crunching by image consultants, is meant to suggest "relaxation, pureness and replenishment".

Earlier this month, Coca-Cola was forced to confirm that Dasani was in fact a purified and processed version of the mains supply provided by Thames Water to its factory in Sidcup, Kent. The company, which made profits of £406m in Britain last year, justified the leap in cost from the base ingredient of 0.03p per litre to 95p per litre (a factor of 3,166) by underlining how its lifestyle water went through a "multi-barrier" filtration process and a further technique used by Nasa.

The space-age breakthrough turned out to be reverse osmosis, similar to that used in many domestic purification units.

But the final straw for the blue-bottled brand came last Friday, when Coca-Cola announced the withdrawal of about 500,000 bottles of Dasani in Britain after samples were found to contain up to 22 micrograms per litre of bromate - more than double the European legal limit.

The chemical, produced by the oxidisation of bromide, a trace constituent of one of the minerals added to Dasani, is a known carcinogen.

Coca-Cola insisted that it had received new supplies of the mineral calcium chloride, a legal requirement in Britain.

But, for Dasani, which will continue to be sold in 22 other countries, including the United States, where it is the second best-selling bottled water, the writing was already on the wall. As one company insider said: "It's been an expensive few weeks."

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