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Water, water everywhere…

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Hospitality Magazine

Bottled water is certainly one of the coolest drinks in town and beverage companies continue in their strategies to make it even cooler.

Australia’s demand for bottled water grew 10 per cent last year and even more the previous year, and it’s hard to keep track of the constant beauty parade of new brands entering the market and striving to elbow out their competitors.

There are more than 1000 water brands available in Australia, ranging from market leaders Coca-Cola Amatil and Schweppes through to uber-premium brands such as new kid on the block Voss from Norway in sleek packaging that’s reminiscent of a Calvin Klein perfume bottle, and brands like Fiji Water that seems to be everywhere.

Much of the noise in the market is at the premium end with brands like Voss—which is predominantly available only on premise (in Australia it’s only retail sales are through upmarket retailer David Jones)—reporting strong response from the top of the tree establishments it is targeting.

Companies like Voss are understandably strongly encouraging a new way of looking at water and are talking up the trend happening in markets such as the US for restaurants and hotels to appoint water sommeliers, and include tasting notes for waters in the same way that wines are presented. There are water bars where water devotees can choose from a vast array of waters from around the world and sip them in ultra-cool surrounds.

For foodservice, bottled waters offer good margins and smart operators would be always looking at ways to increase the amount of water they sell. Bottled water also presents a way for restaurants and bars to set themselves apart from competitors.

Tony Benning, sommelier at Sydney harbour-side fine diner, Aqua Dining, recently made the decision to feature Voss as the bottled water it serves to the restaurants’ customers. Benning says that while he believes customers aren’t necessarily drinking more water these days they are certainly more discerning and willing to pay for a more premium product.

“They certainly ask more questions about the water you are serving,” Benning said. “We’ve had a very good response [to Voss] and it suits what we are trying to do at Aqua Dining, it’s a premium product that looks very different to anything else on the market. You’re always looking for a point of difference.”

Benning said taste played a major role in deciding to go with Voss but that the packaging, as well as Voss’s limited distribution strategy, were major influences as well. “You want a water that is going to be very refreshing on the palate. People are eating lots of very rich foods and drinking several different wines. But at this premium level they are all very good products. I suppose what sold it for us was the packaging and also that it is not available everywhere. People want to be able to have something a bit different when they go out.”

At Woollomooloo’s uber-fashionable Blue Sydney hotel water has been embraced as a key part of the quality food and beverage offering that’s been put together there by food and beverage manager Brook Sargeant.

The hotel has eight different ultra premium waters listed along with wine and cocktail offerings.

Sargeant says his decision six months ago to place a real emphasis on water seemed appropriate given that the hotel’s bar is called the Water Bar.

“It fits because the bar is called Water Bar— there is a natural synergy— that’s the reason for having so many waters on the menu. I saw it as a bit of fun. There are a lot of premium waters available to us now. Five years ago you wouldn’t have been able to do something like this.”

“We have one compendium that includes wine, cocktails, beer and water—its all encompassing.”

The waters on the Blue Sydney list include brands such as Voss, Antipodes from New Zealand, Ty Nant from Wales, Hildon from England, and Badoit from France. They range in price from $12 to $15 a bottle and are sold by the glass as well—a 375 glass of Voss is $7.

Sargeant says he selects waters for their quality. “They are all chosen because they are all high quality artesian water. We offer premium champagne, wine and spirits so the water should be the same.”

Restaurateurs need to take into account the style of restaurant they are running when they choose the water they serve.

Lela Radojkovic of Balzac says the style and location of the restaurant doesn’t lend itself to offering more than one quality water, although she says she’s very interested in trying the new brands that are always wooing her. “I think it is very important to have a good quality water that you serve,” Radojkovic says. “The taste is obviously important when it’s being served with food and wine, some mineral waters are too overpowering.

“But our customer base is such that it wouldn’ t be worth stocking five different kinds of water, there just wouldn’t be the demand for it. We are very much a local neighbourhood restaurant. I don’t think a lot of people really think about it, the water they are drinking, as long as it’s good quality.”

Radojkovic said the restaurant has offered San Pellegrino water for five years. “We have had approaches from [more premium] water companies but for some you would have to be charging $16-$17 a bottle. We charge $7 for a litre bottle of San Pellegrino.

She estmates that it is fairly evenly split between the people who choose “Coogee’s finest” —tap water—and bottled water. “Many will often start off drinking mineral water and then just go to tap.”

Over at the swanky Melbourne bar and restaurant, The Long Room in the Georges Building in Collins Street the clientele are lapping up Voss, says events manager, Eleni Louglos. “We were lookig for something that was suitable to this sort of style of venue.” “Something that was a bit glamourous and very sophisticated, the way The Long Room is regarded. It is really great packaging and just looks good at the bar or on the table in the restaurant. It’s a real talking point—it has that real ‘wow’ factor’.

Louglos says the bar staff will often dress up the bottle when they serve it. “They’ll add a straw and out a bit of strawberry on the side.” She said the look of the bottle got it noticed and was a marketing tool in itself. “People see it and they ask about it.”

Louglos says that while it was the packaging that sold Voss to her quality was paramount as well. “People at The Long Room expect to receive a high quality product that fits in with the surroundings. They expect to receive and drink from a nice bottle.”

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