Commercial water bottlers insist they won't be bumping up prices to take advantage of the drought – but increases to cover rising costs could still occur.
With less than 80 days to go until "Day Zero," when chronic water shortages may force Cape Town authorities to turn off the taps, the scramble for water continues in drought-hit Western Cape.
The ongoing crisis has led to fears that commercial bottled water will see a steep price increase to take advantage of the scarcity, but the companies HuffPost has spoken to have assured consumers that this is not a path they're considering.
Public affairs communication manager for independent bottling company Coca Cola Peninsula Beverages [PenBev], Priscilla Urquhart, says the pricing of bottled water has become "competitive" since the onset of the drought, particularly in Western Cape.
Speaking to HuffPost, Urquhart said the company would review their current pricing on bottled water in line with their product portfolio. Pricing would be based on "input costs and other economic factors that are influencing the manufacturing industry".
"The manufacturers of our bottled water are subject to increased input costs and may need to increase prices from time to time," she said, but insisted that PenBev was working hard at "increasing the price of our water products by no more than the inflation consumer price index (CPIX)".
"We are also continually looking for ways to pass on savings to our consumers, and price increases in previous years have been below the CPIX". She said the company would do its utmost to keep annual price increases as low as possible.
South African bottled water brand Aquellé is singing from the same hymn sheet, vowing not to raise prices. Managing director Arno Stegen said the company had not increased the prices of its products since October 2016, and in some instances had issued discounts to retailers so that they could pass savings on to end consumers, which some were doing.
"Although there are significant costs involved in producing such a commodity [such as pumping and extraction costs, equipment, packaging, licensing costs, adherence to legal, health and safety regulations and so-forth], Aquellé has always endeavoured to offer an affordable but quality product," Stegen said.
Aquellé offered an extra helping hand to Cape Town on Monday, embarking on a two-day journey from its KwaZulu-Natal head office to donate almost 30,000 litres of bottled water to the elderly and infirm in the city.
Stegen said he felt compelled to do something after the latest news hit that Day Zero was pegged for mid-April. On Tuesday, January 30, the company will deliver 19,008 1.5-litre bottles – equating to 28,512 litres – to NGO Water Shortage South Africa.
Water Shortage South Africa will distribute the water to 80 registered retirement homes in the Mother City, to aid the frail and infirm who will not be able to stand in queues for their daily water quota when Day Zero hits.
"Together with the SA National Bottled Water Association (SANBWA) and other NGOs, we are working to identify areas of vulnerability and assisting wherever possible," said Stegen.
Professor Umakrishnan Kollamparambil, of the School of Economic and Business Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand, says that drinking water is only a small proportion of the water demand – most was for other activities like showering, doing laundry, etc.
For that reason, she says, she does not think that water bottling companies will hike their prices to profiteer during the drought.
"I do not foresee companies increasing their prices... Water is an essential good and in a democracy, you cannot increase its price just because there is drought." she said. "On the other hand, it is possible the policymakers might increase their price of water sourced to [commercial water-bottling companies] – then they will pay a higher price."
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