Pure genius

While bottled water brands continue to see declines in bars, the choice of mains-fed filtration systems continues to grow

It is now two years since an amendment to the Licensing Act made it mandatory for bars and pubs to supply free tap water on request.Although this merely enshrined in law something that many operators were already doing, it was another blow for the bottled water sector which was already suffering from the economic downturn and consumer concerns about environmental issues. However, last month’s Soft Drinks Report from Britvic showed that the decline in bottled water sales is starting to level off. Using figures from research group CGA, it found that volumes in pubs, bars and restaurants were down 11 per cent in 2011 year on year – an improvement on a 22 per cent drop the year before. It added that one brand even saw growth in on-premise: Highland Spring was up three per cent in volume terms and one per cent in value.

Highland Spring was the only significant bottled water brand at last month’s Hotelympia exhibition at London ExCel, in contrast to a record number of stands promoting on-site water-filtration systems for the on-trade. EcoPure Waters has been providing these kinds of purification systems to the hospitality industry for nearly 20 years, complemented by reusable recycled glass bottles with swing stoppers or screw caps. Its bottles, which can be branded with a bar’s identity, can be seen in outlets ranging from Dishoom restaurant in London to bars operated by the Kornicis Group. “They not only have branding on the front, but the back of the bottle is a blank page for the bar to write anything they like such as its history, what they do for the environment or other marketing messages,” explains managing director Paul Procter.

EcoPure Waters is also providing restaurants and bars with its universal One Green Bottle design – a refillable bottle that highlights the product’s environmental credentials.“There are more repeat visits to establishments that have demonstrable green credentials,” Paul adds. Other options for delivering its filtration systems are a mobile bar, which can be customised for individual venues, and a font on the bar with lines of up to 25 metres.

While some bars provide filtered water for free as added value, others charge a small amount to provide added revenue. John Dundon, chairman of the British Water Cooler Association and managing director of water cooler provider Angel Springs, says: “In upmarket bars, being offered tap water may not enhance your positioning and reputation. If customers are spending on cocktails, wines and other drinks, they are usually willing to pay for water.Alternatively, offering cooler water in a glass or a jug free of charge also enhances your image with customers.”

Another leading player in mains-fed purified drinking water systems is Vivreau, which was at Hotelympia to showcase its new V2O tap system which adds a futuristic control system along with a more stylish look. It also introduced a new all-in-one pressure-reducing valve for connecting the bottling system to the mains water installation. It is more compact than its predecessor, allowing for the Vivreau Table Water Bottling System to be installed in more restricted areas.

Classeq was at Hotelympia to showcase its Eau de Vie system which filters mains water and serves up still and sparkling water in stylish reusable bottles.The latest  models include the compact TT (table top) version which can produce up to 50 litres of fresh water per hour. Classeq has added a 500ml bottle alongside the original 750ml format and has also introduced a rental scheme for Eau de Vie, with a whole system including dispensers, bottles and services available from £20 a week.

Other companies at Hotelympia included The Pure Water Company, which also provides mains-fed purification systems to produce still and sparkling water for serving up in designer water bottles. Its bottled waters can be seen in outlets such as Mexican bar and restaurant group Wahaca. Also at Hotelympia was Brita Water Filter Systems which provides bars, pubs and restaurants with filters to reduce limescale and heavy metals in tap water.

A broad range of free-standing units, counter-top units and built-in under-counter and cellar units are offered by Housewater, as well as stylish fonts – another exhibitor at Hotelympia. Housewater’s high-quality reusable designer bottles, which can be co- branded, are used at bars and restaurants such as Viajante at the Town Hall Hotel in east London and London hotels Blakes and the Landmark.“On-site bottling is becoming the norm, from restaurants to hotels, as more and more people are thinking about sustainability,” says Housewater director Richard Davies.

Increased demand for filtered and tap water has led bar and tableware specialist Artis to come up with stylish ways for it to be served.

“There is now a broad range of choices available, from modern and traditional carafes to jugs, and now reusable bottles, with caps, lids or swing caps,” points out Artis marketing manager Kathy Birch. “There’s something for every style of establishment, offering perceived added value to tap water and a stylish presentation to discerning clientele. I particularly like the concept of reusable bottles, as they hold a multitude of exciting opportunities for personalisation via etching of a logo or slogan relevant to the individual establishment, or theme. And of course, there’s the obvious environmental benefit of recycling and reusing them time and again.” Artis has four styles of bottle to choose from – called Oslo, Indro, Flip Top and Tall Black Cap – in 36cl, 50cl or one litre, which can be etched by Artis to a bar’s specific requirements.

According to the British Beer & Pub Association, the average cost for a pub or bar of providing free tap water is estimated to be £570 per year.“The provision of tap water has obvious costs: staff time, ice, glass cleaning and jugs,” points out Matthew Orme, director of Wenlock Spring – a bottled water that is naturally filtered in Shropshire.“Even the on-premise filtered tap water in bottles is labour intensive, and I question whether consumers are happy to pay for filtered tap water.”

Matthew believes that bottled water continues to have relevance within bars. “If people prefer to drink bottled water, but only tap water is provided in the bar area, this can have a negative effect on the guests who prefer bottled water, as well as a significant commercial impact. By serving only tap water, licensees are missing an important revenue line.” He says bars should make the most of this potential revenue stream by displaying bottled waters in the back-bar fridge in the same way as bottled beers or ciders.“Bottled water needs to be displayed and served with the same care and respect given to other packaged drinks – it is a very important component of the drinks category in terms of margin, especially when an additional purchase.”

Some bottled water brands have aligned themselves with top-end bars such as Ty Nant, the Welsh spring water that is offered at bars such as Equus at the Royal Horseguards Hotel and the Corinthia at the Corinthia Hotel in London and Bar 163 in Chertsey, Surrey.“Ty Nant’s relationship with style bars is now more important than ever,” says general manager for sales, Simon Williams.

“Among a vast array of premium wines and spirits, it is the attention to detail from the managers and mixolgists that helps create the ultimate experience. Using the right bottled water should be no exception.”

To overcome consumers’ temptation to ask for tap water, Matthew at Wenlock Spring advises bars to avoid charging too much for bottled water.“Many licensees are overambitious when setting their selling price which makes the bottled water appear to be expensive when it is the same price as premium fruit drinks, perhaps using the same percentage margin,” he explains.“It is better to have a realistic margin than be asked for tap water which actually costs the licensee money to serve.The inclusion of the brand and a brief description of the water on the menu will also help to raise customer awareness. Correct positioning and display of bottled water within the bar and serving it simply just chilled, with style, at a realistic price – will encourage customers to buy.”

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