ANN DONAHUE

Staff Reporter

Coca-Cola Co.'s new entry in the bottled water wars tastes, well, like tap water.

That's because it is tap water.

This month, the Atlanta-based soft drink company introduced its new product, Dasani, in L.A. supermarkets and convenience stores weeks ahead of the rest of the country in part because Angelenos consume more bottled water than any other place in the world.

In the process, Coca-Cola will be competing with who else? PepsiCo, and specifically its Aquafina product, which also is made of purified tap water. PepsiCo was among the first bottlers to introduce the tap water concept, though some analysts are putting their money on Coca-Cola.

"Their distribution system is so strong that Coca-Cola has a leg up on the other companies right from the start," said Gary Hemphill, vice president of Beverage Marketing Corp., a trade group in New York. "The real growth in the bottled water business has come in the mid- to lower-range segments, so I think Coca-Cola is positioned where the bulk of the growth is."

To create Dasani at the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Southern California on South Central Avenue, water is drawn from the municipal water supply. All the minerals and chemicals are removed and a "secret recipe" of different minerals created by Coca-Cola is then added to give Dasani a uniform taste.

The label provides a more palatable description, saying that Dasani is "filtered for purity, using state of the art treatment by reverse osmosis, and enhanced with minerals for a pure, fresh taste."

But it's tap water, nonetheless.

"People who are water purists are going to want something that comes from a virgin spring," said Peter Swan, an analyst for Olde Discount Corp. in Detroit. "But a lot of folks who buy bottled water are just plain thirsty and they don't care."

Both Dasani and Aquafina will compete in the same price category, well below more elite offerings like Evian, which is imported from France. In Los Angeles, Dasani costs about $1.39 for a one-liter bottle. For the same amount, Aquafina costs 79 cents. (A one-liter bottle of Evian costs $2.)

"Dasani and Aquafina won't have the same kind of snob appeal," Swan said. "If you're paying one to two bucks for water, you're probably feeling kind of ripped off, anyway. But if the water comes all the way from France, people usually feel better about spending the money."

Because Dasani has only been available in Los Angeles for less than two weeks, Coca-Cola officials said they could not provide precise sales figures. But Bob Phillips, spokesman for the bottler in Los Angeles, said the plant is churning out "a lot" of the bottled water.

Years of experimentation went into creating Dasani. The plastic bottle is a soothing cobalt blue, with embossed waves circling the top. And the name Dasani? It was chosen after market research found that consumers associated the word with purity, relaxation and replenishment.

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