Dasani, the tap water bottled by Coca-Cola and marketed as specially pure with a huge publicity campaign, was withdrawn from the market yesterday after impurities were found to have been introduced in the production process.
The water, which was launched two weeks ago, labeled prominently as "pure" and referred to by Coke executives as "as pure as bottled water gets", was found to have illegally high levels of bromate, a chemical which the Food Standards Agency said could lead to an increased risk of cancer.
The company said that the bromate had been formed during the production process for bottling the water at its plant in Sidcup, south-east London. Last night it was withdrawing all 500,000 bottles of Dasani - sales of which had been expected to reach £35m in its first year - which had arrived on high-street shelves.
The fiasco meant the collapse of Coke's attempt, with a £7m high-profile publicity campaign, to break into Britain's burgeoning bottled water market, which is worth more than £1bn a year and growing by 20 per cent annually.
Executives at the Coca-Cola (Great Britain) headquarters in Hammersmith, west London, were horrified by the PR catastrophe. "Obviously, we are very upset about it," said one.
Increasing health concerns over sweet fizzy drinks - last year Diet Coke sales outstripped those of traditional Coke for the first time - were behind the company's decision to branch out further from its traditional market. Targeted mainly at young people, Dasani was said to undergo a complex purification process and then have carefully selected minerals added to it.
The brand hit trouble straight away when it emerged that the source for Dasani was the Thames Water mains supply to Coke's plant in Sidcup, which has passed more than 99.9 per cent of quality checks, making it already one of the purest drinking waters in the world.
While half a liter of Thames tap water costs 0.03p, half a liter of it bottled as Dasani was costing 95p, a mark-up of more than 3,000 times, or a profit of more than 300,000 per cent.