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What we take for granted is being reinvented

By Anna Campbell

I paid $3.80 last week for a bottle of berry-flavoured water. I can imagine my grandfather shaking his head at such a waste of funds.

In my defence I was travelling by car and hadn't thought to pack my water bottle ... Needs must.

I have to say, the water was lovely - refreshing and not too sweet, but when you analyse the price and footprint of that water and how it came to end up in my car it does seem a tiny bit insane.

I wonder what my grandfather would think now if he knew that water, tea and milk beverages are leading Coca-Cola's premium-selling products.

Yes indeed, humble milk, which has been in sales decline for decades in the United States, is being ``premiumised'' for health-conscious consumers and is now experiencing double-digit growth for Coca-Cola.

Of course, Coca-Cola milk is not ordinary milk. Its ``fairlife'' brand ultra-filtered milk ``flows through soft filters to concentrate milk's goodness, like protein and calcium, and filter out the sugars''. It also sells for more than double the price of ordinary milk.

It is hard not to feel cynical, but we need look no further than people queuing in supermarkets for Lewis Road Creamery chocolate milk to understand the power of a premium-marketing approach.

One look at its website and the influence of nostalgia as a marketing tool is obvious. To that end, I was amazed to see milk, coming pretty much straight from the vat, being sold at a Canterbury farmers' market recently. I wonder if we will get back to leaving milk bottles on the pavement with coins on top.

And just to turn my grandfather in his grave a little further, do you remember last year when a New Zealand company hit the media for selling air into China?

Well it's true - for $35, you can buy about 150 breaths of pure New Zealand air from a company called Breathe Ezy. As outrageous as that sounds, after a winter's day in the Beijing smog, I, too, would probably pay for some deep breaths of St Clair sea spray.

What entrepreneurs, followed by the multinationals, are cottoning on to, is that people are willing to pay for something which triggers their imagination or memory of an experience.

It seems hopeful to believe that a few breaths of New Zealand air at the end of a day of sucking in microparticles of pollution could undo damage done, but it's not so different from imagining that a few glasses of milk produced the traditional way will bring back the health of our childhoods.

We live in interesting times. On the one hand we have communities trying to wrestle back control of their food chains from large multinationals, and on the other hand we have increasingly demanding consumers who want blueberries when they are out of season - actually, most won't understand when the blueberry season is!

Something consumers now have in their favour is the ability to form groups and communicate in ways they never had before. This also massively benefits food entrepreneurs and cottage industries.

Locally, this could mean the birth of smaller, agile companies which carve out niches of their own, offering alternatives to suppliers to the large, slow-to-move co-operatives.

There are always risks. For every successful Lewis Road Creamery story, I am sure there are 10 that fail and 10 that muddle along, going nowhere.

One thing is for sure, what we take for granted, including the air that we breathe, is being reinvented in exciting ways. Who knows, maybe my grandfather's breakfast habit of slathering toast an inch thick with butter and sprinkling sugar on top will come into vogue!