What's New in British Columbia - Spotlight on Bottled Water

Summer 2013

The Industry

The universal need for clean water and Canada's access towater resources makes the Canadian bottled water industry one that isoverflowing with potential. Over CAD$2.8 billion of water was imported worldwidein 2012, including bottled water, ice, snow, and other potable waters (e.g. tapwater). Nearly $2 billion of that total consisted of non-sweetened andnon-flavoured mineral and aerated water imports, with the United States andJapan having the highest import sales of $274.9 million and $229.5 millionrespectively.

Although considerably declined since 2007, Canadian exports ofwater totaled over $24 million in 2012, with 83 per cent (or just over $20million) of that total coming from British Columbia. This is a noticeable dropfrom B.C.'s $33.2 million in exports in 2007, but it is also an increase since2010, when the total export value was just over $16.7 million.

Snapshot: Mineral and Aerated Water Imports 2012

Imports: Description of this image follows.

Mineral and Aerated Water Imports 2012: Canada $76.9 million, United States $274.9 million, United Kingdom $138.7 million, Mexico $12 million, Belgium $199.1 million, Germany $223.4 million, Hong Kong $23.5 million, Russia $58.7 million, Japan $229.5 million, Australia $30.3 million

Within B.C., non-sweetened and non-flavoured mineral and aeratedwater exports have declined significantly, from almost $31 million in 2007 to$4.1 million in 2012. Exports of water other than mineral and aerated, however,have been steadily increasing since 2009 to reach $15.9 million in 2012. Thistrend is in line with the global import pattern that shows a slight decrease inimports of mineral and aerated waters and a slight increase in other types ofwater.

In 2012, B.C.'s top four export markets for water were theUnited States (70%), Japan (18%), Taiwan (8%), and China (3%). The top fourexport markets for mineral and aerated water, however, were Japan (53%), Taiwan(36%), China (9%), and South Korea (2%).

Types of Bottled Water

Total Dissolved Solids

The total dissolved solids (TDS) content level refers to the total amount of organic and inorganic matter that is dissolved in water. This mainly refers to minerals such as calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, sulphate, carbonate, bicarbonate, and nitrate. Much of the minerals that end up in the water are a result of the geological region - particularly the rocks - that the water passes through before being collected.

TDS levels and the amount of minerals in water have an impact on the water's taste and palatability. Generally, a TDS level less than 600 parts per million (ppm) (which can also be referred to as mg/L) is considered to be good, while levels greater than 1200 ppm are unpalatable to most consumers.

According to Health Canada, bottled water is water which hasbeen packaged in sealed containers for human consumption. The water can comefrom a variety of sources including springs, aquifers, or municipal supplies,and may sometimes be treated to make it fit for human consumption.

The Canadian Food and Drug Regulations recognizes two broad categories of bottled water. The first is spring or mineral water, which originates from an underground source and may not be subjected to any treatment that modifies its composition (besides the addition of carbon dioxide, ozone, or fluoride). The second category is water that originates from any other source and that may be treated to modify its composition or make it fit for human consumption.

Beyond spring and mineral water, the Canadian Bottled WaterAssociation also includes glacier water under its umbrella category of "naturalwater," which is comprised of water obtained from underground sources orapproved natural sources. Other types of bottled water, labeled as "packagedwater other than natural waters," can be obtained from public water systems,are allowed to be modified, and include types such as distilled water anddemineralized water.

These categories generally refer to where the water source originated and how it was collected or processed, and are often an indicator of the total dissolved solids (TDS) content level of the water.

Know the Difference: Glacier Water versus Glacial Spring Water

Glacier water is water obtained directly from a glacial melt,whereas glacial spring water is spring water that can be traced back to aglacier. The terms vary slightly, but these two types of bottled water will comefrom entirely separate sources and will have vastly different compositions.

The Breakdown

  • Glacier water is water that has been collected directly from a glacial melt, and therefore has an extremely low TDS content level.
  • Spring water is bottled water that is collected from a natural underground source, either at its natural point of emergence or with the use of a borehole.
  • Mineral water comes from the same source as spring water, but differs in that it has a TDS content of at least 250 ppm.
  • Artesian water is water that is collected using a borehole, or artesian well, that taps into a confined aquifer. Because this water comes straight from the aquifer, it typically has a lower TDS content level than spring water or mineral water.
  • Distilled water is water that has been treated using vaporization and condensation to produce a TDS content of 10 ppm or less.
  • Demineralized water is similar to distilled water, but usually refers to water that has been treated using techniques such as reverse osmosis or deionization, to also produce a TDS content level of 10 ppm or less.

Source: Canadian Bottled Water Association

The Quality Debate

There is an on-going debate about the level of qualityassociated with different types of bottled water. These judgments are notdefinitive, but rather are often subjective and based on personal or culturalvalues. Nonetheless, they can have an influence on which type of bottled waterpeople look for and prefer.

For example, mineral water is seen by some as high qualitybecause it contains minerals that are viewed as beneficial to one's health andbecause it is collected directly at its "natural" source. Contrastingly,glacier water is seen as "dirty" because glaciers have been sitting on theEarth's surface for a long time and have been exposed to the elements.

Others, however, view glacier water as the purest form of waterdue to its low TDS content level and therefore see it as a very high qualitywater. These people subsequently view mineral water as being of a lower qualitybecause it is perceivably "tainted" with other particles.

This debate is largely based on subjective ideals and thereforecannot be conclusive. It can, however, have a real impact on purchasingdecisions, and should be considered when trying to appeal to a certain market.

Associations and Certifications

The Canadian Bottled Water Association (CBWA) is the largesttrade association for bottled water in Canada. CBWA members produce anddistribute about 85 per cent of the bottled water sold in Canada. The waterquality standards required by CBWA exceed Health Canada's, and supportenvironmentally responsible practices.

As a part of CBWA membership, companies agree to undergo anannual, unannounced plant inspection and audit. Members must also adhere to theCBWA's Bottled Water Model Code, Bottled Water Food Safety Practices, andCertified Plant Operators (CPO) Program.

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) is a productioncontrol system for the food industry that works to prevent hazards throughoutthe production process. HACCPCanada is a HACCP System Certifying Body.HACCPCanada certification requires prerequisite programs, goodmanufacturing/handling practices (GMHPs), and the HACCP-based Food Safety Plan.Certified companies are subject to quarterly audits of the Retail FoodEstablishment's Critical Control Logs, and annual on-site audits with anAnnual Review of Staff Food Safety Training Logs.

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is a global,business-driven initiative that focuses on the improvement of food safetymanagement systems, and covers a wide range of company practices. Formed back in2000 under The Consumer Goods Forum, GFSI has nearly 400 members in over 150countries.

GFSI has recognized a number of food safety management schemesthat adhere to the GFSI Guidance Document as covering best food safetypractices, and companies are welcome to apply for any of these third-partycertifications.

Export Regulations

Quick Facts

  • In Canada, bottled water is regulated as a food product by Health Canada, through the Food and Drugs Act, and is inspected by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
  • The bottled water industry is facing challenges as it has become subject to negative associations that see the industry as being unsustainable and harmful to the environment.
  • In response to this concern, more companies are beginning to use recycled plastic by blending recycled PET (rPET) with regular PET.
  • Environment Canada has also confirmed that the Canadian bottled water industry uses less than 0.02 per cent of the available fresh water in Canada.

The B.C. Water Protection Act outlines numerous laws for thepurpose of fostering the sustainable use of B.C.'s water resources. Their mainfocus is on water removal restrictions and exporting. Under the Act, removal ofwater in containers over 20 L of capacity is prohibited, unless the water wasobtained outside of B.C. and satisfactory evidence of its origins is present.

The exception to this regulation applies to water being used intransit, and to licensed and unlicensed registrants with the Comptroller ofWater Rights. Approved registrants are allowed to remove water from the provincein accordance with their license. Registrations for licenses closed on September1, 1996 and are no longer available for issue. There are only two companies inB.C. with remaining active licenses.


For more information, please contact the Northwestern Departmental Regional Office in B.C. at 604-666-6344 or email at atsbc@agr.gc.ca.

Date modified: