Bottled water-toting parents face a dilemma.
They want to fill sippie cups with the same filtered or spring water that they drink. However, they also may want kids to get the fluoride in tap water.
So what’s the answer?
Nestlé is the latest bottled water company to come out with a product to fill that niche. Nestlé, maker of Deer Park water, recently started selling “Spring Water with Added Fluoride.” It comes in a lunchbox-friendly 8-ounce size, with a twist top and a label that features a skateboarder with sparkling white teeth holding a bottle of the water.
Nestlé is not the only beverage company to think this is a worthwhile market. Atlanta-based Coca-Cola sells a fluoridated version of its Dannon water called “Fluoride to Go.” The Dannon product hit the marketplace about five years ago and has enjoyed healthy growth, a Coke spokesman said.
DS Waters of America, a company in Atlanta, markets a lesser-known fluoride-enhanced brand called Nursery Water that is available at Publix and other outlets. While Nursery Water has been around for decades, it has experienced double-digit growth each of the last three years, said Shayron Barnes-Selby, director of public policy and communications at DS Waters.
Helena Marin, a 36-year-old mother in Buckhead, started buying the Dannon water with fluoride a couple of years ago. She said the small bottles are perfect for lunchboxes and to drink at soccer games.
“As soon as I saw them, I bought them,” said Marin, whose children are 10, 6 and 1. “I heard that if you do bottled water, they don’t get the fluoride they need.”
In general, the water-with-fluoride concept is not new, but it is experiencing significant growth, said Stephen Kay, a spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association. Kay said about 20 of the association’s 300 member companies offer a fluoridated bottled water.
Fluoride was first added to municipal water systems in the 1940s, and today most Americans have access to tap water with fluoride. The widespread benefit of the additive, though, may have started to taper off in recent years, as an increasing number of families began to choose bottled water.
In 2001, the average American drank 18.7 gallons of bottled water per year, according to Beverage Marketing Corp. By 2005, the average American was drinking 26.1 gallons.
Dr. Mary Hayes, a pediatric dentist in Chicago and a spokeswoman for the American Dental Association, said she first started noticing patients drinking bottled water about 15 years ago. Parents assumed there was fluoride in the water, she said.
She encourages parents to buy fluoridated bottled water if they don’t want to drink tap water.
“Fluoride has a topical effect that helps in stabilizing the enamel surface,” Hayes said. “If we remove that topical benefit, especially with kids, you end up missing an opportunity to keep the public health benefit that has been so valuable.”
As with most health issues, this one is not black and white. Some groups have long complained about fluoride in tap water, claiming it causes health problems. Some fringe groups have claimed it is part of a government conspiracy.
In March, a widely publicized study from the National Academy of Sciences said there may be health dangers if water has the maximum level of fluoride allowed, which is 4 milligrams per liter. The study concluded that people exposed to that maximum level may be at greater risk for tooth decay and bone fractures.
That level is higher than what is found in Georgia water and also higher than what is put in fluoridated bottled water.
Nicole O’Connor, manager of consumer communications at Nestlé, said the study — and the press it generated — did not affect sales or even prompt a significant number of calls to the company. People understood that the dangers are only a factor in a relatively small number of communities that have particularly high fluoride levels in water, O’Connor said.
Despite growth of fluoridated bottled water sales, O’Connor acknowledged fluoridated water always will be a niche product. Nestlé is only targeting parents of children ages 2-6.
“That is not a huge population center,” she said.
The key, from a business strategy standpoint, is to build consumer loyalty by offering people whatever kind of water they desire, she said.