French supermarkets join trend for bottles of ‘luxury water’

Supermarkets are stocking more and more luxury water brands, which boast of their water's purity, mineral composition, health and even astrological benefits 

You may not have expected your local supermarket's water aisle to have a touch of luxury, but they now stock an increasing number of luxury water brands
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More and more French customers are getting the thirst for ‘luxury’ or ‘eau d’exception’ products, as companies enjoy double to triple-digit growth and greater availability in supermarkets. 

Brands such as 808, Bonneval, Fréquence, Les Sources de la Sasse, Orezza or Lillii Water, are all recent newcomers joining the thriving business in ‘luxury water’, with some selling for more than €3 a litre in supermarkets. For comparison, Carrefour sells a six pack of 1.5 litre Cristaline bottles for €1.20, which equals €0.13 a litre. 

The brands justify these increased prices based on the water's mineral composition and purity, how and where the water is bottled and, in some cases, astrological benefits, such as being exposed for a night to a full moon.   

They join Source des Abatilles and Chateldon, two brands that have long marketed themselves in this segment of the industry and which are seen on the tables of high-end restaurants and embassies. 

France’s biggest retailers have jumped on the bandwagon, including these luxury waters on aisles alongside the usual water products of Evian, Vittel, Cristaline, Volvic and Perrier. 

Brands see growth despite competition

“Our ambition is to become Savoie’s dominant water brand before spreading to Haute-Savoie, the Lyon region and Paris,” said David Merle, the CEO of Bonneval waters which sells Bonneval-branded water. 

The company has doubled its growth for successive years, Mr Merle said, adding that it extended its range of products with two other brands. 

It sold six million bottles in 2023, up from two million the year before and 250,000 in 2021. 

Bonneval uses water from a source from the French Alps in Bourg Saint-Maurice. 

All still and sparkling bottles are sold in supermarkets in the region of around €3.50 for six one-litre bottles of still water and €3.75 for sparkling water. 

Another example is Orezza, a French water company extracting water from the Corsican source of Castagniccia, which has been distributed by Carrefour since 2018. 

A single bottle of water is sold at €3 a litre. 

“More and more retail and supermarket shops want our products in their aisles because it gives them a premium touch,” said Alexis Durand, the director of Watershop, a French company distributing and selling many water products. 

Forty percent of Watershop’s clients are supermarkets, according to figures from the company given to The Connexion

It grossed €2,760,116 turnover in 2023 – up from €467,099 in 2019 – and estimates revenues of €4 million in 2024 with plans to open a shop in Asia. 

“I get a call every month from an entrepreneur who wants to join,” said Mr Durand, estimating that around 120 French companies sell water products. 

The rest of Watershop’s clients include luxury brands (35%), B2B (Business to business, 20%) and B2C (direct to consumer), which represents 5%. 

The company has a showroom in the 15th district of Paris where a dozen brands are displayed on a wall-rack and where it welcomes and advises clients. 

Read more: Four French water brands accused of bacteria and chemical contaminants

'Water sommeliers' also on rise

Mr Durand also happens to be the first of the only five ‘water sommeliers’ of France, the first to have graduated from the German-based Doemens Savour Academy, an academy offering a water sommelier diploma. 

The storytelling around ‘eau d’exception’ products is carefully crafted, with many brands emphasising its purity, mineral composition, and a perception of exceptionalism or health benefits. 

But critics argue that water should not be marketed as a ‘luxury’ product, especially when 2.2 billion people have little to no access to drinking water. 

“Our goal is to give access to the greatest number of people, not to cap our water at an inaccessible price,” said Mr Merle, taking jabs at several other unnamed competitors who sell water at expensive prices. 

The most expensive water listed by Watershop is the 70 centilitre Goldfish edition bottle of Fillico Jewelry Water, which is sold at €380. 

Bonneval is not listed on the website. 

Read more: Perrier, Vittel: French brands ‘illegally filtered contaminated water’

Others are marketing products under questionable scientific associations. 

Fréquence, a French water brand launched in the summer of 2022, sells water bottles that are aligned to astrological signs or rocks. 

The marketing is based around water memory, a theory that claims water has the ability  to retain the memory of substances previously dissolved in it. 

It is not yet accepted by the scientific community. 

Agathe Euzen, a water biologist at France's CNRS, the national network of researchers, also pointed out the problems behind the marketing of purity which blurs the distinction between chemistry and science. 

“In the chemical sense of it, a water that is pure means it is demineralised or not suitable for consumption. There is no such thing as real purity,” she said to Swiss newspaper RTS.