It’s tasteless, odorless, colorless and pretty plentiful, but that hasn’t stopped entrepreneurs from bottling and selling fresh air online for as
much as $20 per canister in what is poised to become the latest hype-driven health product.
Canada-based Vitality Air is rushing to meet demand for its canisters from
China, which is purchasing them in the hope that breathing out of a spray
bottle of oxygen collected from a park in the Rocky Mountains will offset
exposure to their nation’s chronic smog pollution.
Lam and Paquette decided to run with the demand by bottling air from Canada’s
Banff National Park into canisters by themselves,
selling it for $14 to $20 each, depending on the size of the spray bottle. The company began selling its product in China last month and sold 500 bottles within two weeks, he says.
“People are looking for something unique and simple that they can’t get at
home,” he says, touting the fresh mountain air of Canada’s national parks. “It’s
a novelty of them importing stuff from another country.”
Entrepreneur Chen Guangbiao has also boosted the market for bottled air in China by selling cans filled with air for approximately 80 cents each, at one point selling more than 8 million cans in 10 days.
The air is China is so unhealthy that respiratory problems kill an estimated 4,000 people each day, according to a recent report compiled by nonprofit Berkeley Earth. Fears about air pollution are so great that one restaurant has reportedly begun charging an extra 15 cents per
customer as a clean-air fee to cover the costs of air purifiers in the shop.
Selling clean air in a restaurant or in a bottle is a “clever business tactic”
but it unfortunately won’t do a thing to make people healthy,
says Dr. Norman Edelman, the senior
scientific adviser for the American Lung Association.
“I don’t think it could protect someone unless they breathe it 24 hours a day,”
he says of the bottled or purified air.
A 7.7-liter bottle from Vitality
Air contains enough air for approximately 150 seconds of breathing at one-second
intervals – certainly not a day’s worth of breathing.
Vitality Air is also selling recreational oxygen, which has a higher
concentration of the element than garden-variety air. Companies like Oxygen
Plus also sell pure canned oxygen as a supplement for athletes, boasting that it “could
be the next bottled water” because of its purported health benefits – and flavors like mango, vanilla and cappuccino.
Edelman says recreational oxygen also does nothing to make a person stronger or healthier – but it has potential benefits if they suffer from lung disease
and breathe it constantly through a tank to compensate for a deficiency of the
element in their blood.
“You can market anything if you are clever about it,” he says.
Bottled air may seem unusual, but it was once inconceivable that people would sell – or buy – bottled water as a premium drink. Convenience stores today are filled with
products like Fiji Water, which since 1996 has boomed by selling liquid with “the natural minerals and electrolytes “ of a far off Pacific
island. Bottled Fiji Water often costs at least $3 at a local store or $7 in a
Glace Luxury Ice since 2007 has sold packages
of premium ice cubes, boasting that its custom shaped and filtered frozen water
eliminates the “inconsistencies of tap-water ice commonly found
at bars and home freezers. The company charges $325 for an online order
of 50 ice cubes.
A Whole Foods store in California was recently caught selling asparagus water that cost $6 simply for three stalks of asparagus in a
jar of water. The organic food chain pulled the product from the shelf over the summer amid scrutiny of its value and claimed it was not supposed to have been for sale at all.
Paquette says he and Lam are taking a deeper look at the implications of
pollution as they plan the next step for their company – and reflecting on the
humor of the situation.
“Recently I have received hundreds of emails from people making jokes about ‘The
Lorax’ and ‘Spaceballs,’” says Paquette, referring to films that include bottled
air in their plots as jokes about pollution.
China was among the nearly 200 nations that recently approved a climate agreement to reduce carbon emissions, which Pacquette hopes will
make a difference in hedging the dire pollution that makes it hard to breathe
or see the horizon in its cities.
Paquette says Vitality
Air is still figuring out what to do next as a business, but he adds “if China
remains looking like it does right now then absolutely I can see clean air
becoming a commodity.”