Just the Answer - Reed Paget
Last month saw the launch of Belu Spring Water in the UK off-trade. Not a remarkable event in itself perhaps but the launch of the brand in the UK's first biodegradable plastic bottle, with 100% of net profits going towards clean water projects in the UK and around the world, has pricked the interest of many consumers. Belu's co-founder, Reed Paget, discusses the brand and its unique proposition.
J-D: How did you come up with this approach to launching a new bottled water?
Paget: The core proposition, before we launched the water, was that we were looking at ways of engaging the business community in addressing environmental issues. Water pollution is very significant - a quarter of the world's population doesn't have access to clean water. Clearly, water was one of the environmental issues that was on our radar.
We had been working with the United Nations voluntary organisation called the Global Compact on a previous project. The organisation was set up to engage the business community and environmental and social innovations to try and find friendly ways of using capitalism to improve the planet. So we took some of their suggestions and set up a company that would tackle water issues. Bottled water seemed like a very convenient vehicle for doing that. Not only can we provide clean water to people, we can potentially raise money for clean water projects. At that point we decided that we would probably have more traction if we gave all of our profits away. In addition to raising profits, we're also aiming to raise awareness, in using the packaging as a communications tool to put the environmental message into the hands of consumers on a daily basis.
J-D: How are you going to differentiate Belu from other water brands in an already overcrowded market?
Paget: It's a crowded market, so we've looked hard at how we're going to stand out, and how we're going to create a premium design that's going to be eye-catching and different. The bottle design has motion to it and is very pure, so I think we'll stand out on an 'on-shelf' way from the start.
Secondly, by giving our profits to water projects, we're going to attract certain customers, including the media and celebrities, who will hopefully see the virtue of what we're doing and who will help get the brand name out there in a positive way, so we can create word of mouth around the brand to win consumer loyalty.
J-D: Can you give us more information about the bottle you'll be using?
Paget: The glass bottle was designed for sale in hotels and restaurants. But we also wanted it to be available for the wider consumer retail market and impulse sector. So we started looking at some plastic containers. With the aim of emphasising environmental issues, we were a little reticent to just use existing plastics because their environmental impact is unfavourable so we looked at the best alternative. About two years ago, we started looking at bio-degradable polymers made from corn, which are commercially compostible back to soil in about 10 weeks.
We think that not only should our brand be using it, we hope to introduce it within the sector, and then within packaging as a whole. It's a little bit more expensive than existing packaging, but that's mainly because it's in its infancy. We're not far from polymers made from bio-matter being cheaper than existing petroleum-based plastics. It's going to be a change over time, but it's important enough to us to absorb the costs and get consumers to back it. With the critical mass, then prices will undoubtedly go down to the same level or lower than oil-based packaging. We're talking years, not decades.
J-D: Are there any plans to spread Belu outside of the UK?
Paget: The answer's yes. We don't have specific plans, as we're looking to get ourselves a bit further entrenched and successful in the UK first, but as we use the English language in our marketing communications we're open to look at other English-speaking markets. It's possible that we could in future look at other countries like China, other European countries or Africa at some point, but we haven't made those steps yet.
J-D: How do you see Belu competing against giants like Coke and Pepsi in the water market?
Paget: Well, we'd love to work with them if they were that magnanimous to say: "This is an important initiative, we'll help you". We'd love to work in conjunction with one of those companies. We'd hope to grow awareness around the water issues. In the water sector as a whole, we need to be a commercially competitive product to survive on our own merits, based on satisfying consumers' need for a quality product.
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