And Finally

Bottle shock

Evian faces a PR crisis as it fails a government quality test

At South Florida’s Hotel Victor, spa guests can enjoy a nice bath that’s sprinkled with rose petals and filled with 1,000 bottles of Evian water. The whole experience, which costs $5,000, renders it one of the most expensive treatments in the world. The spa claims that the Evian water will “revitalise the skin and purify the senses”.

But in China, Evian water enjoys a somewhat different reputation. Just last week, Chinese inspectors found an imported batch of Evian water to contain an excessive amount of nitrate (indicating the presence of bacteria). Too much nitrate increases the risk of cancer, according to a test by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine. The firm was ordered to ship the water back.

More worrying, it is not the first time Evian has been blacklisted. Back in November last year, its water was also found to contain excessive nitrite and was shipped back. In January, more than 80 tonnes of its mineral water failed entry inspection, also for excessive nitrite, and was destroyed by local authorities. In total, the company has entered the blacklist six times in past six years, says Sina Finance.

Danone – which produces Evian – shrugged off the accusations. The company claims that China’s government applies a bacteria standard different from that set by the World Health Organisation, and that the bacteria found in the test was a harmless strain that was normally present in Evian.

“Bacteria are divided into harmless bacteria and harmful bacteria. Natural water must contain some bacterial, which is harmless to health,” says Dai Ning, general manager of Danone.

All that said, Evian has tested its water at source in France and is confident that it still meets China’s stringent requirements. According to a People’s Daily report this week a sample measured by Evian at its French HQ had a nitrite content of less than 0.02mg per litre versus China’s standard of 0.1mg per litre.

Industry observers meanwhile say the batches of Evian that were found to contain an excessive amount of bacteria did not come from the official distribution channel. As it turns out, even though there is one official distributor for Evian, some distributors have obtained the product from other countries and then import it to China.

Evian claims that it shouldn’t be held accountable for water that wasn’t distributed through its own sales channel. After all, the water coming in via rogue channels may have been stored inappropriately or tampered with.

But already, it seems, the damage is done. Southern Metropolis Daily reports that several luxury hotels in China have stopped serving Evian. The French company currently controls more than half the Chinese premium bottled water market.

The irony is that one of the world’s most famous waters should be tripped up in a country where water quality is generally so low. Only this week, state media reported that 76% of sewage in Guangdong province was dumped untreated into rivers. Go drink that…


© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Exclusively sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.