Has Dasani disappeared for good?

Coca-Cola is to review all the processes that led to the recall of its new purified water, Dasani, in the UK last Friday. The &£7m launch of the product had already been blighted by the publicity surrounding the drink’s origins as tap-water.

The company claims it is considering whether to relaunch Dasani in the UK, but says the product is still scheduled to roll out in France on April 19. Rival water brands are believed to be rushing for the supermarket shelf space vacated by Dasani, although buyers at the multiples say they are plugging the gap with own-brand water.

Responsibility for launching Dasani in Europe lies with Coca-Cola’s European director of new beverages Laurie McAllister, while Coca-Cola Great Britain’s (CCGB) new beverages director is Patricia McNamara.

Coca-Cola has had to cancel a huge sampling programme, believed to include 4 million bottles, and pull planned TV advertising. However, insiders suggest that the company’s media strategy has been on the back foot ever since newspapers went to town on Dasani’s origins. It is believed advertising agency Lowe was forced to ditch a lifestyle-focused TV campaign at the last minute, and asked to devise a more “scientific” ad, explaining why Dasani was an improvement on tap-water. It is rumoured that CCGB even took the brief to other agencies to crack.

Dasani does not face similar potential contamination issues in France, because there it will be sourced from a mineral spring rather than the mains supply. However, Coca-Cola will have to convince a nation steeped in mineral water culture that its product is safe.

Coca-Cola could also face an upset in its media planning and buying agenda if rival Danone Waters decides to make trouble. Aegis-owned Vizeum handles Danone in France and Coca-Cola plans to use sister company Carat spfd. So far, Carat says it has encountered no client conflict problems.

Branding experts say that Dasani has failed to set the agenda in explaining its positioning as a lifestyle brand. Mineral water companies such as Highland Spring have used the media to point out that Dasani’s right to call itself “pure, still water” is questionable and the negative coverage snowballed when it emerged Dasani’s source is the same as that of Thames tap-water. Now, the Advertising Standards Agency has received three complaints about Dasani’s labelling and the Food Standards Authority is investigating whether Coca-Cola can claim the product is “pure”.

The Dasani recall was prompted by tests that revealed higher levels of potentially cancer-causing bromate ions than UK regulations allow – though the concentration was below the European limit. Coca-Cola says early bottles were uncontaminated and the product has been tested each week.

The bromate, which derived from a batch of calcium chloride containing excess levels of bromide, showed up in last week’s test following the “ozonisation” process, which ensures that Dasani contains calcium – a legal requirement for bottled water in the UK. CCGB refuses to name its mineral supplier, or whether it will be seeking compensation. It says it has now received safe batches of calcium chloride.

Corporate Edge chief executive Chris Wood, a former Cadbury Schweppes executive, says: “CCGB has to come back with a reason why people should drink Dasani. Just returning to the lifestyle proposition will not be enough after a disaster of this magnitude.”

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