An upstart Ontario mineral water producer puts packaging sustainability at the front and center of its branding message to offer consumers a planet-friendly choice.
June 19, 2017
by George Guidoni, Editor; Photos by Naomi Hiltz
Above caption: Decorated with clean-flowing and soothing graphics designed by Toronto-based agency Jackman Reinvents, the Tetra Prisma aseptic cartons of Flow brand mineral spring water, packed inside corrugated boxes manufactured by Cascades Inc., are the first North American branded product to be topped off with Tetra Pak’s new 100-percent renewable DreamCap caps made from sugar cane.
Every startup business has a lot of ebbs and flows to get through on the way to growth and commercial success. But if early days are any indication, the recently commenced Flow Water water-bottling operation in Aurora, Ont., is catching the rising tide of consumer demand for more environmentally responsible and sustainable products just at the right time.
Whatever the new company’s fully-rebuilt 21,000-square-foot processing and packaging facility may lack for now in terms of volume and throughput capacity, company founder and chief executive officer Nicholas Reichenbach is clearly poised for a long run in the increasingly crowded marketplace for premium bottled-water products.
Sourced from a glacial spring on Reichenbach’s family property in South Bruce County, in close proximity to the Lake Huron shoreline, the one-of-a-kind spring water is said to contain natural electrolytes and minerals such as calcium carbonate, magnesium, potassium and zinc, with the water levels continually replenished by rainwater that takes decades to trickle trough the earth’s surface into the limestone aquifer underground.
With the spring’s origins traced back to about 10,000 years ago, the water’s purity and all-natural origins make it a true premium product, according to Reichenbach, who first started marketing it in Canada back in 2015.
But rather than selling it in industry-standard PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic containers, Reichenbach made a conscious decision to bring the Flow brand water to market in fully-recyclable aseptic beverage cartons made mainly from renewable resources manufactured by leading global aseptic food processing and packaging systems manufacturer Tetra Pak.
While Flow is currently available in both Canada and the U.S., it was originally co-packed in Canada. Now with the new plant online, Flow will now self-manufacture in Canada and continue to sell in both countries.
Reichenbach decided the time was right for the company to begin filling its own Tetra Pak water cartons full-time, rather than rely on outside co-packers.
For now employing 10 full-time production people, the Flow Water plant’s day begins with an early-morning delivery of a 45,000-liter tank filled with the mineral-rich, naturally alkaline water harvested at Reichenbach property’s spring.
“For now, this is the amount of water we need to supply a full day’s production needs,” Reichenbach told Canadian Packaging on a recent visit to the Aurora facility.
After being transferred inside massive stainless-steel holding tanks positioned near the plant’s receiving doors, the water is continuously fed into the attached Viquae UV sterilizing and filtering systems to remove any impurities, after which it’s ready to proceed to the state-of-the-art, fully-integrated, high-speed turnkey packaging line installed earlier this year by Tetra Pak Canada Inc.
All linked together through a series of Accumulator Helix 10 product transfer and accumulation conveyors, the spanking-new line comprises a high-performance Tetra Pak A3/Flex filling machine; two Tetra Pak Cap Applicator 30 Flex cap applicators; and a Tetra Pak Cardboard Packer 32 automatic case-packing system.
To apply product codes coming off the Tetra Pak A3/Flex filler, the line employs a model A520i continuous inkjet (CIJ) coder manufactured by Domino Printing Sciences plc, a long-time strategic technology partner of Tetra Pak worldwide, to print three lines of small-character product codes and variable product information in the top left corner of each box’s top panel.
The line also uses the high-performance ProBlue series adhesive applicators, manufactured by Nordson Corporation, on both cap applicators and on the case-packing machine—using specially-formulated, food-safe hot-melt adhesives custom-made for Tetra Pak by Henkel Adhesives Technologies.
All hooked up and synchronized to run all of the machines in perfect unison, the Tetra Pak line can produce up to 7,200 one-liter cartons, and 8,000 finished 500-ml drink boxes, per hour.
“That’s about two cartons per second, which is pretty fast in my books,” says Reichenbach, while lavishing praise on the sleek, multipaneled Tetra Prisma Aseptic Edge cartons tastefully decorated with the brand’s logo and basic product information set in deep blue against a mostly white background.
“I am very happy about our collaboration with Tetra Pak because it allows us to go about our business in the most environmentally-friendly and progressive way possible,” sates Reichenbach, noting that Flow Water is actually Tetra Pak’s first North American customer to begin using the new bio-based DreamCap resealable closures (for 500-ml boxes) made from bioplastic polymers derived from sugar cane.
“We are the only water company to be using Tetra Prisma Aseptic cartons with caps made from sugarcane to differentiate ourselves from the competition, whose products are invariably packaged in plastic or glass,” Reichenbach explains.
“Compared to plastic or glass, there is no question that packaging our water in BPA-free renewable packaging is better for the consumers and better for the environment,” he states.
“There is a whole new younger generation of consumers out there embracing the ‘better for you’ products and packaging,” he says, noting that there were about a half-billion Tetra Prisma Aseptic cartons of coconut water sold last year in North America alone.
“Consumers are becoming used to seeing more natural hydration products being packaged in shelf-stable aseptic cartons, and I believe that this is a perfect format for the ‘grab-and-go’ products like ours.”
Says Reichenbach: “We conducted extensive research with Tetra Pak to ensure that the tiny bit of polypropylene film lining on the inside of the cartons left no residual ‘cardboard’ taste in our water.
“We spent a considerable amount of time to make sure that there is no taste compromise with our product,” says Reichenbach, noting that the Tetra Pak cartons also do a much better job at keeping the water cool longer than any disposable plastic container, due to an aluminum layer embedded into the carton’s construction just beneath the lidding.
“Recent market research shows that 40 per cent of North American consumers really care about where their brand’s packaging is sourced, and the inherent renewability of the lion’s share of Tetra Pak cartons’ raw materials is definitely an important factor in their decision-making,” adds Tetra Pak Canada’s managing director Scott Thornton, citing the company’s long-stated strategic goal to develop a 100-percent renewable package for commercial use, with one such gabletop carton already available in Europe for chilled products.
“The last remaining stumbling block to full renewability is the aluminum,” Thornton says, “but we are making steady progress towards developing an aluminum-free structure down the road.”
Says Thornton: “The DreamCap closure was designed with consumers at hear: we went to understand what consumers needed, what they wanted to hear and what they expected from their packaging.
“The DreamCap has a wide 26-mm opening to help the water flow easier, it is totally resealable and, of course, it is bio-based and renewable, with all the safety and convenience features the consumers expect.”
According to Reichenbach, the Flow brand water’s pH of 8.1 is extremely rare in the mineral water business, with this level or purity enabling the brand to compete in the premium water segment against the likes of the popular Fiji and evian water brands.
“In fact, we are the only Canadian mineral spring water company in the market,” says Reichenbach, adding there is only one other spring in North America with similar purity and other quality attributes to Flow Water’s spring.
“People drink Flow brand water because it has a lot of minerals and calcium that convert acidity to base in their bodies to reduce inflammation,” he relates, “while the magnesium in the water produces the natural electrolytes that act as a super hydrator.
“If you were to make ice cubes with this water,” he adds, “you would actually be able to see some mineral and calcium deposits forming underneath.
“We do not do any kind of industrial processing with our kind with Flow water: we put nothing in and take nothing out.”
Happily for Flow Water, product supply is not a problem, as Reichenbach explains.
“Because the spring is in artesian condition, there is about a million liters of water a day that is naturally released into the environment,” he says, “and we just take out a tiny fraction of that amount.”
For now retailing Flow in six-packs of 500-ml cartons and in single one-liter boxes, the company used the services of Toronto-based boutique design studio Jackman Reinvents to design the graphics and other key branding elements for the pre-printed Tetra Prisma Aseptic boxes, which are continuously rollfed onto the line to keep the Tetra Pak A3/Flex filler running at optimal speeds.
“The company’s owner, Joe Jackman, is actually a board member and a major investor in Flow Water, with many years of experience working with some multibillion-dollar brands,” Reichenbach reveals.
“So you can tell he really poured a lot of heart into designing a package that would enable us to compete against the evians of this world in the premium water category, while giving consumers the option of picking something better.”
As Reichenbach explains, the curvy metallic foil lines running across the Tetra Prisma Aseptic cartons in seemingly random manner are actually a topographical representation of the spring’s aquifer.
“The fact that it’s made in Canada and introduced into the market on the eve of Canada’s 150th birthday, is also something that should strongly resonate with the Canadian consumers,” Reichenbach reasons.
“People love this product not only because they can feel good about the packaging, but also because it’s the only Canadian premium water out on the market,” says Reichenbach, adding the company will be running a concerted With Love from Canada promotional campaign throughout the summer months, which will include special on-pack graphics featuring the Canadian flag and ‘Happy Birthday Canada!’ brand messaging.
Already retailing at about 4,500 retail locations across Canada, Reichenbach expects to expand that base to about 5,200 locations, citing strong interest from leading retailers like Loblaws, Sobey’s, Rexall, Metro, London Drugs and other retail industry leaders, as well as a multitude of independent grocers.
Similarly, he expects the number of U.S. outlets retailing the Flow band to grow from 500 to over 2,000 by the summer’s end.
“Some locations actually have us listed twice, stocking right next to all the mass-produced plastic bottles, but also in the stores’ all-natural product sections,” Reichenbach relates.
Says Reichenbach: “Every entrepreneur ultimately wants one main thing: people loving your work.
“From what I have observed so far, people really love Flow water for how it tastes, how it makes them feel about the product’s environmentally-friendly packaging, and for how much care we take in delivering this product to them in its all-natural state, with no industrial processing.
“We see the consumers’ strong positive reaction all over the social media with postings from many celebrity and everyday brand loyalists,” he says, “and we are also very encouraged by the product velocity numbers gathered by our retail partners.
“We are already Number One in Canada in the alternative boxed water product category,” Reichenbach concludes, “and we have every reason to be optimistic going forward.”