US bottled-water manufacturer BlueTriton has launched five of its brands in aluminium packaging amid a “premiumisation” trend in water as well as sustainability demands.

Arrowhead, Deer Park, IceMountain, Poland Spring and Pure Life are the first to be trialled in aluminium, an initiative which is part of the company’s 2030 sustainability goals.

Its goals include aiming for “100% of beverage packaging to be recyclable, reusable and/or compostable” and to be made from 50% recycled or renewable material by 2030.

BlueTriton also aims to replenish all water that is “used or displaced” by its sites in regions with the most severe water-related challenges. (Since last year, the company has been embroiled in a legal battle with California’s water board which restricted its access to water in the state.)

When private-equity group One Rock Capital Partners and Metropoulos & Co acquired then-Nestle Waters North America in 2021, it said the new name, BlueTriton, was chosen to reflect a commitment to keeping the unit independent and focused on sustainability.

Just Drinks sat down with the newly appointed CEO to delve into the company’s sustainability plans, trends in the water category and its investment plans.

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BlueTriton has more than 7,000 employees and sells in the US and Canada. It declined to disclose annual revenue or sales.

Just Drinks: What is BlueTriton’s rationale for the launch of aluminium bottles? Is it part of a premiumisation effort?

Joey Bergstein: I would say yes. It’s a combination of ensuring that people really appreciate the value of the spring water that we’re providing.

Because it’s [different from products that are] just purified water. That’s a very big area where we’re going to continue to innovate.

The second goal I would say is to promote our five-gallon solutions, so the reusable solution, because that’s a very fast-growing part of our business… and on top of that it is absolutely the premiumisation of our range and introducing other premium solutions that are an interesting part of our growth agenda going forward.

Just Drinks: Aluminium bottles are more expensive as far as I know, but are they significantly more expensive than plastic?

JB: Yes. We sell a 25-ounce aluminum bottle for SRP $2.99, which is a lot more than we sell a plastic bottle for.

Just Drinks: Do you think the price will be an obstacle in the long term for aluminium bottles in the water category?

JB: I think there are other issues with aluminium as well. Cans are more expensive than aluminium bottles. But as with all things, the more a business shifts into a particular material, the cost of those materials has to come down. So there’s a significant amount of capital associated with the change from one format to another format.

JB: I think there’s going to be an increasing appreciation for spring water and local spring water.

We’re excited about more and more people discovering our Saratoga brand that we acquired in 2021. It [has grown to be] nearly four times the size [since then] and will continue to grow.

I think we’re going to continue to see more happening in the premium enhanced-water space because people are looking for additional benefits than just the pure water alone. So I think that’s going to be an important and growing part of the category.

We’re excited about the brands we have, like Action, which is an alkaline water brand. We are working on other [products] in that space.

And then I think about just sparkling water, in general, we introduced a wonderful brand called Origin which comes in a slim can with different flavours and no calories.

I think that it’s going to be the combination of greater appreciation for spring water as well as innovation at the more premium end of the water.

JB: We have to go back to the old adage of reduce, reuse, and recycle, reuse, in that order. The reuse, I think is a really important element for how to deliver sustainable solutions when it comes to water, which is why I’m so excited about that reuse system that we have. We’re in over a million homes and offices delivering these five-gallon jugs that are designed to be reused. We pick them back up and we refill them.

I think also one of the big challenges in the US today is increasing the rates of recycling. We don’t have a national way to collect plastic after it’s been used. And we need to get to better, more systemic solutions that recapture the plastic.

The issue, in my view, when it comes to sustainability is not plastic, plastic is a great and durable material. The problem that we need to deal with is plastic waste. The more that we can collect packaged plastic after it’s been used and recycle it so that it can be used again, the more sustainable it will be.

But all things in sustainability come down to choices and tradeoffs. So if you look at the lifecycle analysis of a PET water bottle, it has a much lower carbon impact than an aluminium bottle does. The aluminium is infinitely recyclable and has higher recycling rates. So if you’re thinking about plastic waste versus your carbon footprint, there’s a trade-off to be made there. So I think that there isn’t one single silver bullet we need to provide different solutions for people depending on where their interests lie.

Just Drinks: In what area of sustainability do you plan to invest the most in the next five years?

JB: We will invest across three different pillars of sustainability. The first one is around water stewardship, and how we ensure that we are taking care of the 20,000 acres of watersheds and wetlands and ensuring that all the right things are happening to ensure that we’re sustainably managing our water.

We’ve made a commitment around replenishing 100% of the water in priority areas to be managed and we’ll invest to ensure that we’re putting in both nature-based solutions as well as human-based solutions for returning water that is being used, to the areas where it’s being used.

The second pillar is circular packaging. We do a number of different things in the world of circular packaging. We have industry-leading levels of recycled content and the PET that we’re using. Last year 28% of BlueTriton’s PET bottles were recycled after usage; this year we will get this number to 35%. We’re going to continue to grow that over time, and we’re going to continue to invest in the recycling infrastructure.

The second big area is actually a little-known fact about our business, which is that we participate in the second-largest reuse system in the country. So about a quarter of our business is done in large five-gallon or three-gallon jugs of water. Those are designed to be reused 25 times each. When somebody signs up for a year of service, it takes about 1500 single-use bottles out of the system.

And then the third area around circular packaging: we’ve launched aluminium bottles across our range of spring water brands like Poland Spring, Arrowhead and Zephyrhills. We’re also launching an aluminium bottle for Pure Life across our range.

Just Drinks: You talked about the lack of sufficient recycling programs in the US, and you said that only about 30% of plastic gets recycled. Whose responsibility is to make sure that waste is reduced and packaging is recycled?

JB: I think, like many things, a public-private partnership is always the best way to address the challenges in front of us. So there’s a role for policy, and there’s a role for business to step in. But it won’t happen unless there’s that partnership between the two sectors.

Just Drinks: Last September (2023), regulators blocked BlueTriton from diverting millions of gallons of water from the Strawberry Creek watershed in California. How has this impacted the company? What happened since then?

JB: It’s a relatively complicated situation. The water that we source for our spring water is groundwater. And those rights to the groundwater were granted before 1914.

The order was received by a government body that doesn’t actually have jurisdiction over groundwater. They have jurisdiction over surface waters, such as rivers and streams. That order has been stayed and we are continuing to source water from that particular area. Well, while there’s a dispute about the rights to water in that particular area, it is not a large source of water for us.

I would say, really importantly, this is an area that we’ve been sourcing water from from over 100 years, and we’ve worked really hard to ensure that the ecology remains strong and healthy.

We know that we’re doing the right work to be able to manage the ecology and we’ll continue to work through the water rights matter.

We complied with the order when it was received and then the court put a stay on the order, well, it’s being refuted, and we’re sourcing again. We’re always operating 100% within compliance, and it’s important that we that we protect our water rights.

The legal case continues to be managed through the courts.