Aquafresh Completes 10 Years Successfully
By Ashwin Hemmathagama
Access Natural Water (Pvt) Ltd., with the brand name Aquafresh was established as a subsidiary of the Access Group of Companies in 2001. Aquafresh is one of the leading bottled water manufacturers in the country and it has captured the local market with its supreme quality products and services by producing purified spring water in eight different sized bottles. Following are the excerpts of an interview held with Director and Chief Operating Officer Shanil Perera.
Q: What were the key factors that supported your venture during the past decade?
A: Aquafresh recently completed 10 years in business. We started in 2001 July with the facility in Padukka. Our unique selling proposition was ‘quality and reliability’. Honestly, we never expected to grow this big and fast. To accommodate the growing market demand for Aquafresh products, capacity was increased on several occasions. We will continue to increase the capacity, diversify the portfolio and tap new markets in the future.
Q: What made Access Group to venture into bottled water and how successful is this decision?
A: Access International was established in 1991. It earned a very good reputation both locally and internationally for its professional expertise in the fields of trading, engineering, information technology and telecommunications. Bottled water happens to be one of the new areas adopted in 2001. This is the tenth year that Access Natural Water is in business. We strongly believe in Sri Lankan products compared to imports. Aquafresh is the brand name of our natural spring water. It is one of the most preferred brands in the country due to the essentialness of purified drinking water.
Q: What differentiates Aquafresh from other bottled water brands in the market?
A: When we launched Aquafresh there were 300 bottled water operators in the country. Due to stringent quality control measures, this number has reduced to 110. Quality matters most. We are the first to receive the SLS 894 certification for the five gallon bottle in the country. We are also the only supplier with three international standards including the ISO9001: 2005, ISO22000: 2008 and the Dutch HACCP, which is different from the generic HACCP due to the stringent quality standards maintained. So we have something which none of the other water suppliers can afford to maintain. In addition to these international standards we have the Ministry of Health certification and the SLS. All these benchmarks which have been achieved serve to maintain standards and are not for use as a promotional platform. The biggest achievement was to receive the ‘Water for Life’ award in 2005 from the United Nations. The UN gives this award once in every decade for a region.
Branded water imports are necessary to a certain extent to promote tourism. But if you take a lab report, I guarantee Aquafresh is far better than any of the imported bottled water.
Q: What can you tell us about the factory and the bottling process?
A: Our factory is in Udagama, Padukka where we have 45 employees. In our factory we blow the bottle, fill the bottle, and seal it. All these activities take place at source. We do not bring water from outside but use a tube well that runs more than 200 feet passing the bed-rock. Our filtration is the biological process. This is the same filtration that you could see with Mother Nature, which is called the Magic Mile. We have mimicked nature’s purification process.
We blow our own PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) bottles to maintain quality and hygiene. Five years’ back we invented a clay pot used as a water dispenser. This is very famous and our competitors copy it from us although it is illegal. The clay pot dispenser also assures the natural chilling of water. It is highly recognized among the expatriate community in the country.
Q: What prevents you from reusing the PET bottles?
A: PET is not reusable. Since we don’t know what comes in the bottle, bleaching takes place before the refilling process. You can’t bleach the PET bottles since the structure of the bottle collapses making it difficult to refill or retain water inside. This is the key reason that we cannot reuse the PET bottles.
Q: Aquafresh mainly caters to the upper market. What is the reason for segmenting and can you name some of your clients?
A: We maintain the best quality in systems as well in the product differentiation of Aquafresh from any other bottled water brand. Although we are not the market leader some of our valued clients include the World Health Organization, UNICEF, UNDP, Hayles, Nations Trust Bank PLC, Aitken Spence Group, Hatton National Bank PLC, some of the companies in the John Keells Group and People’s Bank in addition to domestic users. We are the sole provider of bottled water to our national carrier Sri Lankan Airlines. The transit airlines Qatar Airways, Saudi Air and Cathay Pacific also serve Aquafresh bottled water.
We have seven different types of PET bottles and one large poly carbonate bottle that houses five gallons of water. Our production reaches almost 1 million litres per month and our distribution network includes Matale, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Valachchenai, Hambantota, and Balangoda. The most expensive component is the cost of transportation.