Misleading customers by claiming its product was '100% Pure New Zealand Mineral Water' and making false scientific claims about the benefits of its supposedly 'energised mineral water', which was really just processed tap water, has cost an Auckland-based company after it was prosecuted by the Commerce Commission.

Big Blue Limited, which sells, supplies and processes water and sells/rents water coolers, breached the Fair Trading Act by making false claims about two of its products, Energised Distilled Water and Energised Mineral Water. The company was fined a total of $25,000 in the Auckland District Court.

Water used in both products was tap water purified at Big Blue's Auckland plant using a reverse osmosis process. The purified water was then claimed to be 'energised' using what was described as Wasser 2000 Vibration Technology and, in the case of the 'energised mineral water', had minerals from South Korea added back in. A brochure for the Wasser 2000 Vibration Technology, used in the Big Blue bottling plant (the Wasser/Water 2000 device) described the process as involving the passing of water through a pipe to which was attached a small, sealed, stainless cartridge supposedly containing 'spring water' enhanced with life-essential minerals, trace elements and mineral bound oxygen.

Big Blue claimed on its website that the Wasser technology process "neutralises the harm caused by toxins through re-programming the waters polarity and restoring it to its 'primordial' or natural state. This natural state provides beneficial health giving frequencies."

It was clear that, as the cartridge would be on the outside of the pipe, the water being processed never came in contact with either the cartridge or its contents.

Big Blue Limited did not conduct or commission any scientific testing to verify the accuracy of the claims it made about its 'energised' water.

Adrian Sparrow, Director of Fair Trading for the Commerce Commission, said, "Many consumers seek health benefits from drinking water and the pseudo-scientific claims being made for these products could fool some people into believing that there were extra health benefits to be gained by drinking 'energised' water. However, the Wasser Technology process does not produce any measureable change to the water."

Big Blue also claimed that its product Energised Mineral Water was '100% Pure New Zealand Mineral Water', when the water was actually tap water that had been de-mineralised by reverse osmosis to purify the water and then re-mineralised using artificial minerals sourced from South Korea. In addition, labels and promotional material went on to claim that Energised Mineral Water contained "over 20 naturally occurring sea trace minerals". Testing by the Commission showed that the very small traces of minerals in the product bore no resemblance to naturally occurring sea trace minerals.

"While the water that Big Blue was selling was safe for consumption, its claims would have led consumers to erroneously believe that the water may have had special health benefits over and above regular tap water or other bottled water products," said Mr Sparrow.

"The types of claims that Big Blue were making for these products are almost impossible for the ordinary consumer to verify. Consumers rely on businesses to supply accurate information about the nature of products. When a claim isn't true, it not only misleads consumers, but disadvantages competitors who are giving accurate information," said Mr Sparrow.

Mr Sparrow said, "It was also disappointing in this case that, despite assurances from Big Blue Limited to the Commission that it had amended its labelling, the Commission still found the misleading labelling in the market place months later."


Big Blue Limited has been trading since 1999, selling, supplying and processing water coolers and 15 litre units of bottled water for use in the coolers. They operate a processing and bottling plant at their head office in Mt Wellington, Auckland and a plant in Wellington. Although the water used by Big Blue to the Christchurch area was genuine mineral water, the representations were still misleading in terms of the performance characteristics and quality of the water.

The Fair Trading Act. Section 13 of the Act prohibits false or misleading representations "in trade, in connection with the supply or possible supply of goods or services or with the promotion by any means of the supply or use of goods or services," of the following relevant types:

(a) That goods are "of a particular kind, standard, quality, grade, quantity, composition, style or model, or have a particular history or particular previous use";

(e) That goods "have any sponsorship, approval, endorsement, performance characteristics, accessories, uses or benefits"; and

(j) A false or misleading representation concerning the "place or origin of goods".

Court penalties for breaching the Fair Trading Act can include fines of up to $200,000 for a company and $60,000 for an individual. Only the courts can decide if a representation has breached the Act.

Ecoworld NZ Ltd. In July 2005 Ecoworld NZ Ltd was fined $60,000 in the Hamilton District Court for misleading people about the benefits of a water 'treatment' system that did nothing to change the water it treated. The court also ordered compensation of $68,000 to be paid to consumers who purchased the product during the period under investigation (March 2000 - March 2003), and required more than $8,000 in costs to be paid to the Commerce Commission.

Ecoworld sold the 'Grander Living Water Units' for between $1,500 and $12,000. The units contained no mechanism or filter to treat water. Rather, in a sealed section they contain 'living water,' which the vendors say comes from glacial melts in Austria's Tyrolean mountains. Ecoworld claimed that any water brought into contact or close proximity with this 'living water' would gain special properties, ranging from an improved PH level to becoming hostile to pathogens. Tests showed that there were no measurable differences between 'treated' water that had passed through the system, and untreated water. Judge Merilena Burnett said promotional material for the Living Water units "contained inconsistencies, quackery and pseudo-science."