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Fiji's new tourism icon - Fiji Water

Jul 01, 2009

Fiji may be in hot water with its friends over the island republic's policies since a military coup in 2006, but when it comes to cold bottled water, its popularity is international.

Fiji Water began bottling pure artesian water, from its main island of Viti Levu, in 1996.

It now exports to many areas of the world - including Australia, Britain, Canada, the Caribbean, France, Germany, Mexico, Spain and the United States - with total annual sales worth more than $US150 million ($A191.69 million).

In the US, it's shipped by sea and and now stands second among all imported bottled water behind France's Evian.

And among customers is US President Barack Obama.

Tourism Fiji, currently promoting cheaper Fiji holidays following devaluation of the Fiji dollar, has circulated a photograph of the president sitting with delegates at an unidentified meeting - with several clearly identifiable Fiji Water bottles on the table.

A print sent to me was captioned: "Look who's drinking Fiji Water" with the additional comment: "If only we can get Vijay Singh (Fiji's international golf star) to drink it as well."

Some other photographs have also surfaced in the United States, showing Mr Obama with his wife and two daughters sitting at home, again with Fiji Water bottles prominent nearby.

The exposure may have delighted Tourism Fiji and the water exporters, but it may not have sat too kindly with Fiji Water's American rivals.

Claims arose that the Fiji company produces its water at a high environmental cost, at a production plant running on diesel 24 hours a day and burning fossil fuel to import plastic bottles by sea from China and a one-litre bottle of Fiji Water, it was said, results in 0.25kg of greenhouse emissions.

Fiji Water countered this by launching a "Fiji Green" campaign (, reducing its carbon footprint by recycling more, and by using less packaging materials and less energy at its bottling plant - and more carbon-efficient transportation.

Answering another American claim that many rural areas in Fiji lack a clean water supply, the company points to its Fiji Water Foundation, funded by its employees worldwide, which has created access to clean water in more than 100 communities.

Natural Waters of Viti Ltd was founded in 1996 by Canadian millionaire David Gilmour who has a lavish hilltop home with spectacular ocean views on the small island of Wakaya, east of Viti Levu.

The first bottles of Fiji Water were exported to the US the following year.

The pure water comes from a 40m-deep artesian aquifer in the Yaqara Valley in highlands north of Suva - an aquifer being an underground layer of water-bearing rock or material such as gravel, sand, silk or clay.

The valley is "far from pollution, acid rain and industrial waste," the company says.

Fiji Water accounts for 20 per cent of Fiji's exports and three per cent of its Gross Domestic Product, according to spokesman Rob Six.

Mr Gilmour sold Natural Waters in 2004 for a reported $US50 million ($A64million) to Roll International, a billion-dollar private holding company in Los Angeles with diverse interests including large producers of citrus fruits and nuts, owned by Hollywood couple Stewart and Lynda Resnick.

Production of Fiji Water and by eight other members of the Fiji Water Institute stopped briefly last year when the interim government formed after the 2006 military coup imposed a tax of 20 cents per litre on bottled water; it resumed after the tax was shelved by the government.

Apart from President Obama, Fiji Water has been seen as the choice of many American film, TV and rock stars, according to various websites.

Advocates have included Cameron Diaz, Whoopi Goldberg, Leonardo DiCaprio, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and Renee Russo - who famously poured a bottle of the stuff over Pierce Brosnan during the 1999 movie The Thomas Crown Affair.

Fiji Water has also appeared in a number of American TV series, among them Boston Public, The Sopranos and West Wing.

Fiji's new tourism icon - Fiji Water
Mr Obama and his wife with Fiji Water bottles prominent nearby / Image via


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