History of Aquafina


© History Oasis

As the Berlin Wall fell, marking the end of the Cold War era, and Nelson Mandela took his first steps out of prison into a new age for South Africa, an inconspicuous new bottled water brand named Aquafina simultaneously rolled off a production line in Wichita, Kansas in 1994.

Sparking a history that would soon reshape the global purified refreshment industry.

Though Aquafina emerged modestly during a tumultuous period of human history, few could have predicted this humble Midwestern bottling experiment's trajectory toward becoming America's #1 bottled water within a generation, outselling prominent rivals like Dasani and Deja Blue amidst booming worldwide demand.

From those small-town Kansas roots, the little-known history of Aquafina bottled water proved far more eventful and impactful than almost anybody initially realized.


aquafina vintage ad
Source: Aquafina

As a humble bottled water brand, Aquafina's origin story is rather inconspicuous.

In 1994, the very first bottles of Aquafina rolled off a production line and into stores in Wichita, Kansas—a city better known in those days for aircraft manufacturing than life-giving hydration.

Yet this small Midwestern city soon proved to be the perfect incubator for Aquafina's aspirations. Free from the cutthroat bottled water competition in larger metropolitan areas, Aquafina found acceptance amongst Wichitans looking for a hometown brand to call their own.

And from these humble beginnings, the foundations were laid for Aquafina’s precipitous rise.

Within just a few short years, Aquafina’s purification plants were springing up across the country to supply their clear elixir of refreshment from sea to shining sea.

By the early 2000s, the brand had become a ubiquitous sight across the US landscape—from the sun-soaked sidewalks of Los Angeles to the bustling bodegas of the Big Apple.

Not content just to quench American thirst, Aquafina set its sights overseas for global domination.

Through the early 21st century, Aquafina could be found flowing in the shops, stalls and stores of nations from Spain to Vietnam—a testament to man's innate and universal need for clean, refreshing water.

Once sold only in the tranquil heartlands of Kansas, Aquafina had now emerged as the world's preeminent provider of bottled water—one small step for a bottled beverage, one giant leap for the PepsiCo portfolio.


tap water used for aquafina
© History Oasis

The rapid ascent of Aquafina onto the global stage was not without its fair share of turbulence. By the early 2000s, the brand had cultivated an air of mountain springs and icy refreshment that seemed to echo with each twist of an Aquafina cap.

So when the truth emerged in 2007 that those cascading waterfalls on the bottle actually originated from municipal tap water sources, a tide of controversy soon swelled.

Angry editorials flooded the press, lamenting Aquafina's perceived duplicity and the revelation that the contents were merely filtered tap water.

Some rights groups railed against the brand for privatizing a public resource, while environmentalists decried the plastic waste and carbon emissions generated unnecessarily.

Stung by the swelling backlash, Aquafina moved swiftly to get back ahead of the PR crisis. Almost overnight, a disclaimer was added prominently to every Aquafina label, humbly clarifying that "yes, our contents come from the tap...but they still taste great!".

This radical transparency helped calm the stormy waters around the brand, even if it meant forever bursting the purified mountain spring imagery it had long promoted.

In retrospect, Aquafina had perhaps gotten carried away with marketing spin. But the quick and upfront admission of their misdirection went a long way towards placating critics. And their state-of-the-art filtration systems still exceeded the purification efficacy of some smaller municipal water plants at the time.


aquafina judgement
© History Oasis

The rapidly unfolding saga of Aquafina took a shocking turn in 2009 when two little-known individuals successfully sued PepsiCo for an astronomical $1.26 billion over the brand's origins.

Charles Joyce and James Voigt claimed that the genesis of purified bottled water actually stemmed from their own forward-thinking ideas which were covertly stolen by PepsiCo executives at a conference years prior.

This purported intellectual property theft then allowed the company to rush Aquafina to market years before Joyce and Voigt could act on their own plans.  

In a David versus Goliath tale for the ages, the judge sided completely with the plaintiffs, fining PepsiCo over a billion dollars in damages and fees.

For a brief moment, Aquafina's very existence seemed under threat. However, behind the sensational headlines, cracks soon emerged in the triumphant tale of the two underdog inventors.

As it turned out, PepsiCo had never even responded to the original lawsuit or appeared in court, having misplaced the legal paperwork.

Once granted a second chance to contest the charges, PepsiCo quickly had the billion dollar judgment overturned in full by November 2009. The company vigorously maintained that Aquafina was wholly conceived by internal R&D teams.

In the end, after the initial explosive trial revelations faded from the papers, the justice system agreed that Joyce and Voigt's claims of stolen purified water plans seemed to lack concrete merit or evidence.

And Aquafina could go back to focusing on perfecting its state-of-the-art filtration methods rather than defending its right to exist. Still, the short-lived legal fracas made for interesting fodder in the ever-eventful early chronicles of the now famous bottled water brand.


aquafina sparkling water
© Aquafina

As Aquafina sought to cement itself as America’s drink of choice in the early 2000s, the brand’s innovation teams busily churned out a cascading stream of new flavor-infused spinoffs, trying to produce the next runaway hit beverage.

Their first attempt—Aquafina Alive—hit shelves in 2007, amping up water’s nutritional content with an infusion of body-boosting vitamins. But the product soon found itself lost amongst the clutter of new-age vitamin waters and electrolyte sports drinks.

Despite a dedicated niche following, Alive soon faded from prominence by 2009.

Undeterred by Alive’s demise, the inventive minds at Aquafina doubled down - rolling out the Aquafina plus+ line just a year later in 2008.

This iteration aimed to temper purified water with bolder fruit flavors like lemon and strawberry, along with an extra antioxidant vitamin kick. Initial sales bubbled over well for the first few years as the novelty proved popular.

Buoyed by the early buzz around plus+, Aquafina then unveiled its most ambitious concoction yet—Sparkling—in 2010. As the name suggests, this flavored sparkling water variant aimed to transform Aquafina’s steady image into a lively, effervescent experience.

However, the brand may have strayed too far from its roots with so much fizz and pop, as Sparkling soon fell flat with the wider market.

In the end, while Aquafina’s mad flavor scientists had some intriguing ideas for diversifying the brand's offerings, consumers simply seemed to prefer purity.

By 2011, all three adventurous offshoots had come and gone - fantastic voyages for Aquafina, but likely better left as short-lived footnotes in the brand’s history rather than long-term product pillars.


aquafina bottles in the ocean
© History Oasis

As Aquafina reached stratospheric heights through the 2000s, a swelling undercurrent of criticism also bubbled up in its wake.

Environmental groups in particular took aim at the brand's use of plastic bottles and the immense waste footprint this created.

Despite its purified contents, Aquafina's packages were clogging up landfills and leaking toxins as discarded bottles broke down over centuries, critics charged.

Stung by the environmental backlash, Aquafina moved to get ahead of the message, announcing sweeping packaging reforms in 2009.

New ultra-lightweight bottle designs were rolled out which used 50% less plastic overall in construction.

This allowed Aquafina to dramatically slash its yearly plastic footprint while retaining bottle strength and shelf stability.

The company trumpeted that across all of Aquafina's packaging SKUs, the annual savings from these lightweight bottles equated to some 75 million fewer pounds of plastic entering landfills each year.

To put this in perspective, that was enough plastic to wrap around the equator twice when stacked end to end. Aquafina was keen to have consumers focus on this startling plastic reduction, rather than dwelling on broader lifecycle waste criticisms.

For a while, the packaging reforms helped stem the swelling anti-plastic tide turning against disposable bottled drinks. But even lighter packages could not fully eliminate the sustainability challenges bottled water still posed in a waste-conscious world.

Thus Aquafina's tense balancing act between convenience, profits and eco-values seemed destined to only grow more complex as the brand entered the third decade of operations.


aquafina sports ad
Source: Aquafina

Even in those early days rolling out from humble Wichitan beginnings, Aquafina’s founders had shrewdly realized that plastering the brand across major sports could rapidly accelerate growth.

Thus began a strategy of sponsorships and associations with high-profile athletic organizations that continued right up to the modern day.

By striking deals to become the “Official Water” of powerhouses like Major League Baseball and the NFL, Aquafina embedded itself in the nation’s consciousness from the ballparks to living rooms.

Pairing the branding with icons like golf’s PGA or the thirst-inducing spectacle of NASCAR auto racing only further cemented Aquafina as a refreshing sports staple.

And as Aquafina looked to expand worldwide, its soccer sponsorship alliances brought the bottled beverage juggernaut to global prominence.

Spanish La Liga to Middle Eastern oil money football leagues soon had Aquafina logos beaming from every camera angle and drinks break, familiarizing new international markets with the brand on rapidly rising global broadcasts.

Some critics argued that Aquafina’s omnipresent sporting sponsorships created a halo effect that overly sanitized perceptions around the convenience and sustainability issues still swirling.

But whatever the commentary, there was no denying those sports deals’ effectiveness in accelerating Aquafina’s visibility, adoption, and sales through the roof from the 1990s onwards.