Innovation key to survival in bottled water market
The past two decades have seen the bottled water market emerge and explode into a boom that has attracted a large number of players, raising questions about the quality of the product range in the market. But these hurdles have not prevented seasoned players from continuing to grow their market share and the overall industry output that is now estimated to be worth more than Sh2 billion annually.
The Business Daily’s George Ngigi spoke to Mr Karim Premji, the CEO of Aquamist — a water bottling firm — on ongoing changes in the soft drinks market and the impact on consumers.
Bottled water has become one of the fastest growing products in the soft drinks market. What are the main drivers of this growth and what is the market outlook?
Health seems to be the key driver of sales growth of bottled water. Consumers have steadily increased their daily intake of water, either because they want to stay healthy or to maintain a good balance of body fluid as part of the weight-loss regime. There is also the change in lifestyle that is replacing caffeine and carbonates intake with water. This, together with continued growth of the middle class, has brightened the future of the bottled water market.
What would you say is the value to the consumer of using bottled water?
The most obvious concern is safety or health. It is, however, important for consumers to have detailed information that can aid the choice they make in the marketplace. The Kenyan market is now literally awash with multiple brands, including unlicensed ones that do not meet the required standards, putting their safety in doubt.
What is the value of Kenya’s soft drinks market and what portion is attributed to bottled water?
The soft drinks market is humongous with an estimated value of Sh10 billion per annum. That covers the entire range of sodas, juices, energy drinks, and bottled water. Bottled water accounts for a tiny fraction of not more than 10 per cent.
Rapid growth and high profitability in the Kenyan bottled water market have attracted many players. Does this concern you?
Competition is healthy, but unless the new players can prove that they are capable of supplying the consumer with consistent quality products there may be no future for the entire industry. Our focus at Aquamist is not on the plethora of players in the market, but on continually improving our standards and expanding our product range.
Aquamist is one of the pioneers in Kenya’s bottled water market. What explains your success in this highly saturated market?
Consistency in the provision of quality products and service. We would not have won this level of client loyalty and the attendant growth. Besides, Aquamist has continued to innovate even as we keep high standards in our production processes to endure product quality.
We have also introduced new products such as Sparkling and Flavoured water products to help expand our product range and strengthen brand loyalty.
Aquamist mineral water is bottled at source under stringent conditions, using state-of-the-art, fully-automated, washing, rinsing, filling and sealing equipment.
The naturally balanced mineral content ultimately gives us a crisp, light, refreshing and tasty product that is popular with consumers.
The bottled water market has come under aggressive attack from fruit juices and energy drinks, how big a threat are these to bottled water dealers?
Water is a necessity and a must in the range of what people must consume to stay alive and healthy. Health experts have recommended that a normal person should consume at least eight glasses of water a day. Fruit juices and energy drinks are not competitors to bottled water, but to other soft drinks such as sodas.
On the contrary, the water market is growing at an average of 20 per cent per annum. Millions of Kenyans are now better educated and smart enough to understand the role of water in their system.
Does Aquamist plan to change its game in the soft drinks market, for instance with the launch of new products?
Yes, this is the driving force behind the recent launch of Flavoured water. Aquamist is the first bottling company to introduce a flavoured water product in East Africa. We intend to stay in this innovative path with the launch of new refreshing and healthy drinks that widen the consumer’s choice. We have, for instance, launched a new Ice Tea variety that is already available in major retail outlets.
How different is your new product from the existing range? Who is your target market?
Aquamist Flavoured water is a sugar-free drink with just a hint of fruity flavour so you get the benefits of water without giving up taste. This zero-calorie beverage is a healthier alternative to other sugar-laden soft drinks and is available in five great flavours namely lemon, mango, peach, pineapple and strawberry. Since its launch, the product has proven to be a success, appealing to all consumers across the age demographic.
Any plans to diversify into other segments of the soft drinks market or spread into the region?
Aquamist mineral water is the flagship brand for the company, but there are other key drivers of growth such as Sparkling water and Vital juices. On to these we have recently added the Aquamist Flavoured Water — a product whose uptake has been surprisingly successful.
Our Ice Tea product comes in two flavours i.e. Lemon and Peach that are immensely popular in North America and Europe with brands like Liptons and Nestea setting the pace.
A key component of our market strategy is right pricing. Imported Flavoured water from Dubai and England are priced at more than double our brands.
Where does the biggest potential for growth of the soft drinks market lie in EAfrica?
Kenya has always been and remains far ahead as far as market size and growth is concerned. But the middle class population is fast expanding in Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.