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Mineral Water Has an Unexpected Rival (October 3, 2005)

Bottles of Tokyo Water
Sales of imported mineral water are soaring. Most of this water is hard water, which is rich in minerals like calcium and magnesium and is popular among the health and beauty-conscious crowd. Meanwhile, bottled tap water has also been selling well, driven by a demand for water that tastes good but doesn't cost much. Water treatment plants around the country have been scrambling to invest in cutting-edge purification equipment in a bid to stay ahead of the competition, and the future of the drinking water market is becoming a growing focus of attention.

Mineral Water's Popularity
Japan's major beverage manufacturers have been acquiring the domestic marketing rights for foreign mineral water and expanding their distribution channels. Suntory Ltd., for example, has the rights to Contrex water from France, which it initially offered by home delivery and has sold in stores since 2003. With a suggested retail price of ¥195 ($1.77 at ¥110 to the dollar) for a 500-milliliter bottle, Contrex costs more than other brands but is selling well, with shipments in the first half of 2005 surging to double that of the same period in 2004 thanks in large part to an advertising campaign in women's magazines in the spring.

Japanese mineral water tends to be soft, with limited amounts of calcium and magnesium. (Water hardness is measured by how much calcium and magnesium is dissolved in the water.) By contrast, imported mineral water contains a large quantity of these substances and is popular among women who are health and beauty conscious. While milk, cheese, and other dairy products are rich in calcium, and nuts have a significant amount of magnesium, these foods are fattening and can only be eaten in limited amounts by dieters. Water, by contrast, has no calories. It is perfect for people who want to watch their weight and also stay in good health.

The average Japanese person today drinks 12 liters of mineral water a year, just one-twelfth that consumed in France and one-third that drunk in South Korea. Water containing vanadium, which is said to reduce blood sugar levels, is selling well, and industry experts predict that water containing silicon, which is said to be effective in reducing cholesterol, could become the next big seller.

Tokyo Water has proved surprisingly popular.

Local Tap Water
In June, a brand of bottled water became the top-selling item at a convenience store in Yokohama City. The product, named Hamakko Doshi, is actually tap water produced by Yokohama City's Waterworks Bureau. The water comes from the Doshikawa River in Yamanashi Prefecture and is filtered and sterilized by heating. Other than not being chlorinated, Hamakko Doshi is the same as the water piped to part of the city.

A number of other locales have also come out with their own brands of bottled tap water. The city of Sapporo released Sapporo no Mizu (Sapporo Water) in June 2004, and the product has been a hit, notching up monthly sales of 10,000 bottles. Tap water has also been bottled in the cities of Okayama in Okayama Prefecture, Hitachi in Ibaraki Prefecture, Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture, and Nobeoka in Miyazaki Prefecture.

Tokyo, whose tap water has a fairly poor reputation, now treats the water it pipes in from the Tonegawa River with state-of-the-art purification equipment, using ozone and activated carbon to break down substances that give off a moldy smell and are said to be carcinogenic. The city created Tokyosui (Tokyo Water) for a special event in 2004, and the response was so positive that it decided to market it.

Many local waterworks bureaus have also sought to improve the quality of their water by enhancing the systems for piping in water. In some places, pipes made from lead, which can dissolve and contaminate the water, are being replaced, and the water tanks in condominiums are being replaced with direct supplies from the mains.

Bottled tap water is popular because it costs relatively little, just ¥100 ($0.91) for 500-milliliters, and tastes good. Its growing popularity will likely raise people's expectations of the quality of their tap water and have an impact on the wider water market.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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