What do the hard water area of Sidcup, the world’s largest soft drinks company and a famous episode of Only Fools and Horses have in common? The most infamous product launch disaster in UK history.
In hard water areas when a block salt softener isn’t used, quite a few people prefer to drink bottled mineral water rather than tap water due to the different taste, and there are many bottled water brands on the market that cater to the needs and wants of millions of people.
At this point, Coca-Cola decided that they wanted to sell their then-popular Dasani brand of bottled water in the UK after successful launches in the United States and Canada.
However, unlike nearly every bottled water on the market at the time, the source of Dasani’s “pure” water was in fact from the taps of their bottling plant at Sidcup, a hard water area near London, which was then purified by reverse osmosis before having minerals added back into it.
It launched in February 2004, but within a month the press had picked up that the water was from the tap, which led to an enquiry by the Food Standards Agency and Hillingdon trading standards and near-immediate backlash.
This was bad enough, but the situation soon became considerably worse on 18th March 2004 when it was revealed that a batch of the water was contaminated with the cancer-causing chemical bromate, although not at a level that was immediately dangerous.
Coca-Cola organised a swift recall and immediately pulled Dasani from the market.
What made this story even worse for the drinks company is that it eerily mirrored the Only Fools and Horses episode “Mother Nature’s Son”.
This episode, where Del Boy sells tap water under the name “Peckham Spring” (Peckham itself only being nine miles from Sidcup), even ended with the water turning out to be contaminated.