Evamor Bottling Facility Gets Noticed
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Bottling company sees potential in North Shore’s water resources
POSTED: 09:35 AM Wednesday, December 28, 2011
BY: Jennifer Larino, Staff Writer
The Evamor water bottling plant off Highway 1077 in Covington has the feel of a top-secret laboratory but company president Bo Reily insists there are few secrets behind his drinking water brand as he scans his fingerprint to access the facility.
The scan, Reily says, is a U.S. Department of Homeland Security measure. He and Damion Michaels, vice president of marketing, enter a warehouse occupied by a few hair-netted employees moving around loud humming machines and military lines of bottled Evamor water.
They wind their way into a quieter room where they point out a pipe system that draws water up from an aquifer 2,000 feet below the ground and filters out hard minerals. A nearby touch screen reveals its mineral properties, including the naturally high pH level of the water, a key selling point for the brand.
“It’s not glorified tap water,” Reily says.
Evamor is the newest player in the low-key bottled water industry that has cropped up on the North Shore. For hundreds of years, entrepreneurs have sought to turn the clear-running springs and artesian wells of local lore into a profitable drinking water brand.
Kentwood Springs has tapped its namesake to provide bottled drinking water for homes and offices throughout the Gulf Coast region for 50 years. Atlanta water conglomerate DS Waters of America now owns Kentwood Springs, though it maintains some operations in Tangipahoa Parish.
Evamor is Reily’s second go at the water business. A fourth generation member of the Reily Foods Co. family, he led its purchase of Abita Springs Water Co., a tiny company that tapped the North Shore town’s famous springs, in 1994.
Reily Foods, founded in 1902, is known for brands such as Luzianne tea and Blue Plate mayonnaise.
“(Bottled water) hadn’t really become what it is now. People made jokes about selling water,” Reily says.
By 2005, Abita Springs bottled water was sold from Florida to Texas and in an exclusive deal with the Louisiana Superdome. In August 2005, levee failures and catastrophic flooding after Hurricane Katrina devastated its New Orleans bottling plant. The losses overwhelmed the company, and Reily Foods sold the Abita Springs brand to DS Waters in 2007.
Reily says Evamor has a chance to create a premium national brand that bottles water directly at a local source.
Abita Springs Mayor Louis Fitzmorris has seen just how coveted local waters can be. Long a destination for its naturally pure drinking water, the city sold the rights to its town seal to Princess Abita Water in 2008. The small company had been working with property owners to bottle water from area artesian wells.
Princess Abita foundered after a lengthy trademark infringement lawsuit with DS Waters, the new owners of the Abita Springs brand.
A DS Waters representative declined to be interviewed, and phone numbers for Princess Abita have been disconnected.
Fitzmorris says DS Waters hasn’t made an effort to partner with the town.
“Now we’re more famous for our beer than our water,” Fitzmorris says, referring to Abita Brewing Co., established there in 1986.
Chris Hogan, spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association, says the small companies that make up most of the bottled water industry face plenty of other challenges.
The business appears simple but Hogan says small volume bottlers face steep costs, a reason many stick to one-gallon and five-gallon delivery operations.
Not only do they have to carve market share from beverage giants such as PepsiCo and Coco-Cola Co., facilities and processes must meet strict Food and Drug Administration guidelines, he says.
“It’s not something where you take a hose over and fill a couple of bottles and throw it on a shelf,” Hogan says.
None of that is lost on Reily and Michaels. Evamor, which only produces small bottles, had to produce about 900,000 bottles of water last year that never hit the market to meet in-house purity and efficiency standards. It took New York and California health inspectors two years to give Evamor their approval.
“Still, the perception is that if it comes flowing out of your tap for pennies on the dollar, why would anyone in their right mind spend a dollar on a bottle of water? I would say that if you were looking at 90 percent of other waters that would almost be true,” Michaels says.
They say Evamor stands out in that it is naturally alkaline, with low acidity. The brand markets the artesian water as helpful in fighting the detriments of dietary acids such as sugars, preservatives and fats.
Sebastian Concha, a beverage analyst with Mintel, isn’t sure how many consumers will understand or care about alkalinity. He notes that bottled water sales saw a steep drop in 2008 as consumers backed away from higher prices.
“The main difficulty for water is how to change to their pricing point from being an alternative to tap water to being an alternative to all other drinks,” Concha says.
Concha notes that consumers assume purity is a given in all bottled waters. Brands with momentum are often niche, premium waters or local waters, he says.
Reily says Evamor may well be more popular in Asian countries where alkaline waters are valued for their health benefits than in U.S. Still, it has scored a sponsorship deals with the Toyota Center, where the Houston Rockets basketball team plays, and television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz’s Health Corps, a national wellness program geared toward children.
Evamor is also available in all 50 states and in grocery chains such as Whole Foods Market and Rouses. If the brand is successful, Reily and Michaels say it could reignite interest in St. Tammany Parish and Louisiana as a water source and potentially offer a clean industry option for a state long reliant on oil and gas.
“You had a natural resource that was coming out of the ground in Louisiana that revolutionized energy consumption and drove a lot of industries,” Michaels says. “Our hope is that we have another natural resource that comes out of the ground that revolutionizes the food chain.”