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What water can teach the wine trade

A water brand believes the drinks industry should collaborate more closely to improve its combined environmental credentials.

Karen Lynch, CEO of Belu, argued that the various sectors of the drinks trade “need to work harder to watch what the industry is doing so we can see what we can do to learn from the wine and spirits industry and vice versa.”

Belu defeated a number of strong wine and spirit companies to be named Runner Up for Best Green Launch of the Year at The Drinks Business Green Awards 2012.

Pointing to this recognition for the brand’s introduction of a green glass bottle range for its water, Lynch suggested there are obvious areas of crossover for the UK drinks trade to consider.

“We’re a nation of net importers of green glass,” she explained, highlighting the higher percentage of recyclable material this presents – 75% compared to around 45% for clear glass. “That makes it a really good thing to do from a carbon footprint perspective,” Lynch observed.

Initially the brand launched this new range into the UK’s Italian restaurant chain Zizzi, tapping into what Lynch identified as “an expectation of a green bottle” from customers accustomed to Italian water brands.

Describing the initiative as “a rip-roaring succcess”, Belu is now extending its green bottle range to a wider clientele.

As with many green ideas, the brand has battled to raise customer awareness about the existence of certain issues and the extent of their environmental impact.

Turning to its range of 50% recycled plastic bottles, Lynch insisted this feature “is a big thing for the water industry,” explaining: “Everyone assumes the bottles from these companies are recycled already, but that just isn’t the case.”

Belu is also working hard to ensure its environmental offer continues to adapt to meet the changing needs of the hospitality industry. In particular, Lynch cited demand from restaurants for half-litre bottles, “a swift, climbing curve”, which she believes is driven by price point concerns combined with the reduced fridge space required for this format.

Provenance is another factor at the heart of the brand’s ethos, with Belu sourcing its mineral water exclusively from UK locations before supplying this to a UK customer base. “Why would you burn oil to move water?” asked Lynch.

While acknowledging that 100% domestic production is not realistic for the UK’s wine trade, Lynch argued the case for sourcing a product as close to its end consumer as possible, claiming: “If we were in the vodka business, we would be making our vodka in the UK.”

Importantly from a commercial perspective, she noted the growing importance of provenance across an ever-widening range of products which is becoming apparent among consumers and, therefore, the restaurant trade

Tracking the evolution of this awareness in recent years, Lynch remarked: “It absolutely has changed. We talk about provenance now as if we’d always talked about it, but it wasn’t like that a few years ago. Because consumers are more aware, our Horeca  customers have had to become more aware too.”

While Belu’s premium positioning makes it relatively expensive compared to some other domestic brands, Lynch pointed out an obvious commercial benefit of looking closer to home for produce. “It’s less expensive than imported water because we’re not shipping it all the way from Italy,” she remarked.

As for persuading restaurants to take on an environmentally-friendly brand in place of the cheapest option, Lynch cited Belu’s initial clients such as London restaurant Sketch, observing: “It’s good to start top down in those places that can afford a premium.

However, she pinpointed the “breakthrough” as coming when the brand triumphed in a taste test of different water brands by chef Raymond Blanc for his two Michelin-starred Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. “That was the tipping point,” she recalled, stressing the importance of complementing the environmental angle with high quality both in terms of taste and design.

As part of her quest for fresh inspiration, Lynch highlighted a wine initiative she observed recently at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant chain, where some wine is supplied in Tetra Pak before being decanted into carafes for the table. “There’s still the same value there for the customer,” she remarked.

While recognising that the brand’s not for profit set-up relieves it from some of the pressures faced by other companies, Lynch insisted that the principles of building a commercially sound business remain. “We’re an environmental brand first, not a charity product,” she stressed. “We don’t want to help some people at the expense of others.”

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