From pricing to quality, troubles for the food and beverage industry.
Major food and beverage companies like PepsiCo, Bisleri International, Coca-Cola and Tata Tea continue to offer their 1-litre packaged water brands between Rs 13 and Rs 40, despite a recent consumer court diktat not to price them above Rs 12 since it is an “unfair trade practice”.
PepsiCo’s Aquafina is available for Rs 14.75, while Coca-Cola’s Kinley and Bisleri International’s Bisleri are both priced at Rs 13. Tata Tea’s Himalayan brand (under its subsidiary Mount Everest) comes for Rs 20. And the Narang Group, marketeers and distributors of premium food, have priced Qua, mineral water from the Himalayas, at Rs 40 a litre.
The consumer court diktat to the manufacturers of mineral/packaged water companies had come earlier this month, following a compliant filed in 2007 by Virender Singh in a Delhi consumer court. Singh felt cheated when he bought a bottle of packaged mineral water in a movie hall for Rs 20.
Stating that the differential pricing above Rs 12 was “unfair trade practice”, Justice JD Kapoor, head, Delhi State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, said: “The process of converting ordinary water into mineral water is the same (for all bottlers) and the quality or purity is also the same.”
Tata Tea had appealed for keeping the Himalaya brand mineral water’s price at Rs 20 a litre, as it was sourced from the Himalayan springs, while other mineral water brands used water taken from borewells. “It is immaterial whether mineral water is obtained directly from springs or through any other source,” said Justice Kapoor, while suggesting that the company should brand its packaged water as ‘spring water’ and not ‘mineral water’, as it otherwise could mislead the consumer.
A Tata Tea spokesperson declined to comment on the court’s verdict or the future course of action. Likewise, email queries asking PepsiCo on its pricing for Aquafina remained unanswered. A Coca-Cola spokesperson said the company would maintain its price for Kinley at Rs 13 per litre and Rs 8 for 500 ml. Ramesh Chauhan, chairman, Bisleri International, said: “Our price, Rs 13 for the 1-litre pack of Bisleri, is competitive and does not require to be changed.” Parle Agro offers Bailley’s 1-litre packaged water at Rs 12.
“This judgement seeks to impose restrictions on a manufacturer’s right to price its products, based on quality and packaging. I am not aware of any law that requires mineral water to be sold at the same price irrespective of the source, quality, packaging etc. Internationally, all countries permit sale of mineral water at different prices,” said Anoop Narayanan, partner, Majumdar & Co International Lawyers.