Finalizing their preferences

Which Bottled Water Tastes Best? You Might Be Surprised! 6

Bottled Water ContendersThis post started in a grocery store last Saturday. My two daughters (Brooklyn – 16 and Sydney – 11) and I were shopping for the week, and we’d made it to the last item on our list: bottled water.

As we headed down the water aisle, Brooklyn made a beeline for the Dasani bulk pack.

“Why do you always want to get Dasani?” I asked.

“Because it tastes the best,” was her reply.

The marketing sector of my brain started spooling up. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Have you tried all the others?”

“I’ve tried lots. I know I like Dasani the best,” she said matter-of-factly. And that’s when the idea hit.

I agreed to let Brooklyn buy the case of Dasani, but asked if the girls would be interested in performing a blind taste test back at the house, comparing a number of different bottled water brands to answer the question “Which bottled water brand tastes the best?” The girls loved the idea, and so in addition to the Dasani, we purchased single-serving bottles of the following (in alphabetical order):

  • Arrowhead
  • Aquafina
  • Aquavista
  • Fiji
  • Glaceau Smart Water
  • Mount Olympus
  • Nestlé Pure Life
  • Western Family Spring Water (store brand)

We brought them home and put them all in the fridge to chill overnight. I also filled two empty bottles with tap water from the sink (unfiltered), and tap water from the fridge’s water dispenser (filtered). This gave us 11 examples of water to test the following day.

On Sunday afternoon, with the girls sequestered in another room, I set up the experiment. I took 22 clear plastic cups and used a Sharpie to make two sets of cups lettered A through K, then lined them up on one side of the kitchen counter. Picking the bottles at random from the fridge, I filled each cup approximately 1/3 full, then recorded on my iPad the water that corresponded with the letter.

Bottled Water Contenders (from left to right): Glaceau Smart Water, Aquafina, Nestlé Pure Life, Dasani, Fiji, Western Family Spring Water, Aquavista, Mount Olympus, Arrowhead.

Bottled Water Contenders (from left to right): Glaceau Smart Water, Aquafina, Nestlé Pure Life, Dasani, Fiji, Western Family Spring Water, Aquavista, Mount Olympus, Arrowhead.

After taking the above photo, I placed all the bottles back in the fridge so that their presence wouldn’t distract the girls while testing.

I brought the girls back into the kitchen, then instructed them to taste each cup and then place it in their own section of the other side of the counter, in the order of how good it tasted to them. I also instructed them not to look at each others’ preferences, or talk about the water during the experiment. They were allowed to taste any sample as many times as they liked, and rearrange their order at any time.

Beginning the blind taste test

Beginning the blind taste test

I also told them that in the event of a tie, they could place one cup behind the other in the same rank position, but that no more than two samples could be ranked identically. They tasted and re-tasted some samples multiple times to find their preferred order.

Testing and Re-Testing

Testing and Re-Testing

After all the samples had been tasted and moved to the other side of the counter, I gave the girls one final opportunity to fine-tune and finalize their preferences.

Finalizing their preferences

Finalizing their preferences

We took a short (and much needed) bathroom break, and then proceeded with revealing the results.

Sydney’s preference order was:

  1. Dasani
  2. Mount Olympus
  3. Aquafina
  4. Western Family Spring Water
  5. Aquavista
  6. Glaceau Smart Water
  7. Fiji
  8. Arrowhead
  9. Nestlé Pure Life
  10. Filtered Tap Water & Unfiltered Tap Water (tie)
Sydney's results and top three

Sydney’s results and top three

Brooklyn’s preference order was:

  1. Nestlé Pure Life
  2. Arrowhead
  3. Aquavista
  4. Glaceau Smart Water
  5. Fiji
  6. Aquafina
  7. Mount Olympus
  8. Dasani
  9. Western Family Spring Water
  10. Filtered Tap Water
  11. Unfiltered Tap Water
Brooklyn's results and top three

Brooklyn’s results and top three

So what did we learn? First, we learned that Dasani was nowhere near Brooklyn’s favorite water based on taste alone… which led to a discussion of marketing, packaging, product placement, and other factors which lead to our decisions of what to buy, completely independent of a product’s qualities (such as taste). I stopped that discussion after the girls’ eyes glazed over.

We also learned that there seemed to be no correlation between the girls’ individual preferences, which could mean either a) that the girls have wildly different tastes, or b) that apart from the tap water (which neither girl liked), the taste differences between bottled waters is negligible. The truth is probably some combination of both.

We also talked about what contributes to a water’s taste, primarily dissolved solids, which is a function of the water’s source combined with the extent of its filtration. Some of the brands market themselves as “naturally filtered” spring water (like Fiji), and others start out life as normal tap water, get filtered in a factory, and then the company adds specific minerals to modify the taste based on the company’s own studies of customer preference (like Dasani from Coca-Cola and Aquafina from Pepsi). In fact, Pepsi changed Aquafina’s labeling back in 2007 to reflect that it’s tap water.

Next, we talked about some of the differences in tap water based on geographic location. In Utah, the tap water is terrible… as shown by the agreement of both girls’ tests. But at our house in Seattle, the tap water is excellent – and I suspect it would have ranked much higher in this type of test. A better filtration system than the simple one built into the fridge at the Utah house may have helped move the filtered water higher up in the results, too.

Finally, we discussed pricing of the waters, and noted that the “premium” (read: more expensive) bottled waters such as Fiji and Glaceau Smart Water didn’t even break the top three for either girl, and were beat out by much cheaper brands… including the Western Family store brand (which was cheapest overall) in Sydney’s results.

The bottom line? We decided that while in Utah, we should just buy whatever bottled water is on sale. And in Seattle, we’ll stick to the tap water.

Got comments or conclusions of your own? Feel free to share them in the comments!