Leading French organic food distributor and retailer Biocoop has halted the sale of still water in plastic bottles, for environmental reasons.
"We made this decision at the last general meeting," said Claude Gruffat, CEO of the cooperative.
"We consider that commercialising bottled water is too polluting, and goes against what the company stands for. It uses a plastics industry that is harmful to the environment and requires transport by lorry, which means spending on fossil fuels, which are ecological poisons."
While the company will continue to market carbonated water, Biocoop is the first to take the plunge. The brand has a total of 431 stores in France, of which 52 opened in 2016. It employs 4,500 and generated revenues of €900million last year.
Some brands of bottled water have opted to use rail transport to reduce pollution, but they remain a minority. Biocoop has also tried to use sailing boats to transport other goods.
"We are announcing this decision in March, but it has been in place for several months," said Mr Gruffat. "In 2009, some members [co-operative managers] started to stop selling still bottled water. They are very militant, but now no Biocoop sells them."
Sign up to our free weekly e-newsletter
Subscribe to access all our online articles and receive our printed monthly newspaper The Connexion at your home. News analysis, features and practical help for English-speakers in France
The move hits the stores’ bottom lines directly as Mr Gruffat said: "Plastic bottled water is the best-selling product in the store, whether it's in ours or elsewhere.”
But he added: “We could never have it put it to the vote by the shop sellers, as they are not sufficiently environmentally conscious."
Mr Gruffat says the average turnover of a store is around €1.5m to €1.6m a year and that stopping bottled water will cost them 1 to 1.5 % of this.
Biocoop advised that customers should revert to drinking tap water, but Mr Gruffat went further, saying that only organic farming should be allowed in water catchment areas to avoid pollution from pesticides and nitrates.
Until this type happens, Biocoop suggests filtering tap water – but the efficacy of water jug filters has recently been questioned by health watchdogs.