The prolonged drought in the Western Cape and the threat of “Day Zero” has given rise to fears of price hikes in bottled water yet Retail Price Watch, the consumer price watchdog, has found that major retail chains in the region are sticking to 2017 prices for 5l bottled water.
The net effect is that there has been a rush on bottled water and many stores have found themselves temporarily out of stock, says Viccy Baker of Retail Price Watch.
“Under normal circumstances demand pressure would have increased the price of the larger sizes, but instead stores have been offering specials which have cleared their shelves, even if only for a short time,” she says.
“Retailers are to be commended for not capitalising on the shortage although it is very likely that consumers who are already very angry about the way the water crisis in the Western Cape has been handled, would not tolerate large price hikes,” she says.
“On 25 January Woolworths in the Southern suburbs of Cape Town which sells its house brand for R22/5litres, was offering 2 bottles for R31 and the shelves in most stores were cleared before lunchtime.
“Pick n Pay and Checkers Blue Route were out of stock but promising deliveries on 26 January while Checkers Muizenberg is selling its house brand Eastern Highlands for R15 a bottle.”
Judy Woodgate of Tstsikamma Crystal Water in the Eastern Cape says that demand has been “unprecedented” with her sales managers witnessing people fighting over the last bottle of water on shelves in supermarkets in Cape Town.
“We have been besieged not just by retailers but by members of the public who want to buy at source because they cannot buy from the stores,” she said.
“We are bottling as fast as we can and have an order book which will fill 31 trucks all headed for Cape Town in the next week.”
Woodgate offers a caution to homeowners wanting to buy large quantities of water – many opting for truckloads of more than 5000 litres - that storage in the sunshine can offer water deterioration over time.
Baker says that empty 25l plastic bottles have been sold out at stores such as Mambo’s and Plastic World.Monique Hector, a spokesman for Mambo’s confirmed that the Cape stores had experienced increased demand and had sold out. “We are expecting deliveries but cannot say when.”
Baker says that over the past year prices of 5l bottled water around the country have generally stabilised (see Table below).
A Muizenberg resident Heather Hirschman (57) who lives on the 10th Floor of her apartment block said the 87 litres per day that Capetonians had been allowed over the past few months was far too much given the current crisis and that the authorities should have acted earlier to restrict the use of water further and to hike the price for higher levels of water usage. “It is inconceivable that older or disabled people will be able to manage to carry 50 litres of water per day from taps to their homes,” she said.