EXCLUSIVE: Packaged water brand JUST Water launches officially in Australia this week. In advance of the launch, PKN was invited behind the scenes to the packaging facility and to speak with the stakeholders in the project about what makes this water a “better solution”.
The Slades Beverages' facility in Victoria is the location of the PKN-JUST Water pow-wow. I'm joined by Andrew Pooch, MD of packaging solutions company Tetra Pak Oceania, and George Tan, director of Slade Beverages, co-packer for the product. Dialled in from Los Angeles, where he's overseeing the promotion of JUST Water at Expo West, is CEO of JUST Goods, Ira Laufer.
There's a buzz in the room because this project has been many months in the works and is about to hit lift-off. Elsewhere in the facility the production line is filling and packing cartons on a new Tetra Top dual lane high-hygiene filling line with a capacity of 9000 bottles per hour. On the table in front us 'newly minted' JUST Water cartons take pride of place.
JUST Water's entry into the Australian market follows the brand's rapid growth since it first launched in the US in 2015, then expanded into the UK last year. In Australia, three varieties of JUST will be available: 100% spring water and two JUST Infused options, lemon and berry. The flavour essences are added via Tetra Pak’s Aldose system.
Major supermarket retailer Woolworths and convenience chain 7-Eleven have got behind the brand, with Woolworths rolling out the three variants nationwide in a six-month exclusivity deal, and 7-Eleven stocking the spring water.
Slades director George Tan says having Woolworths as an early adopter immediately lifted the game, and this was compounded by 7-Eleven's buy-in. “If consumer response matches projections, we'll be installing a second line soon,” he says, noting that the company's facilities have room for expansion.
Andrew Pooch adds that plans are already in place for sourcing additional lines for Slades via Tetra Pak's global network.
“Apart from retailers, there has also been considerable interest from hotels and airlines, who'd be looking at smaller pack sizes,” Pooch says. “The Tetra Top line can accommodate a variety of pack sizes.”
A BETTER OPTION
Why the excitement over packaged water, you may ask? What is JUST Water? Perhaps the best way to answer the question is to start with what it's not. It is not, nor does it purport to be, the ideal solution to reducing beverage packaging waste. That would surely be to drink tap water – where it's potable and available – from a reusable vessel. But since bottled water remains in demand, and continues to be purchased in high volumes, finding a better solution to a plastic bottle is a decided step in the right direction.
This is the belief of brand founder and entrepreneur, actor Jaden Smith. As the story goes, Smith’s inspiration for JUST Water struck when he was surfing as a young child and saw plastic bottles polluting the ocean. He says: “I’ve always felt really connected to the ocean so when I learnt about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in school, then saw first-hand that there were plastic bottles floating around in the ocean – I knew we could come up with a better option.”
His sentiment is echoed by Ira Laufer, CEO of brand owner JUST Goods. Commenting on the uptake of the brand in its US launch market, and subsequently in the UK, Laufer says JUST Water has garnered a lot of attention globally in the face of the “depressing matter of plastic pollution”.
“What we have in JUST Water is a solution that allows 100 per cent spring water to be bottled close to or at source, in a container that is made from a combination of FSC-certified paper and plant-based materials.”
Andrew Pooch interjects to clarify the pack's precise composition: “The paper-based carton is made from eighty-two per cent renewable resources – fifty-four per cent of the paper is made from Forest Stewardship Council certified and/or controlled wood sources and twenty-eight per cent is made of plant-based materials – the cap and shoulder.
“In packaging converting terms, there is around a seventy per cent reduction in carbon emissions over the lifecycle compared to a standard plastic bottle based on US LCA studies,” Pooch says. Furthering the sustainable production argument, Pooch adds, “And the shape of the finished pack also makes it space efficient on pallets and on shelves.”
RENEWABLE AND RECYCLABLE
Laufer adds that it was important for JUST Goods to find a packaging supplier that had the infrastructure to support recycling and a full life cycle approach to stewardship of the pack. JUST Goods found this in Tetra Pak in the US and UK, and now in Australia.
Commenting on the pack's recyclability, Andrew Pooch says that Tetra Pak cartons are fully recyclable and are increasingly being recycled in Australia.
“Australia has high access to recycling, over ninety per cent of households can recycle cartons through kerbside recycling. Cartons are typically included into mixed paper bales before being sent for recycling,” Pooch says “There are other uses also fully available in the region, such as chipboard and plastic wood,” he adds, “And we are working with all those options.”
“Beyond kerbside recycling, consumers can also recycle cartons under container deposit schemes of which cartons are sorted into its own stream. In Australia, deposit-refund systems to manage single-use containers (including beverage cartons) have been mandated at state level.”
He adds, however, that since the China ban, there is an oversupply of mixed paper bales less value in the market and sorted bales have increasingly limited export channels.
“With the limited waste export channels and global over supply of recyclables, there is an urgent need to have more efficient collection systems and an onshore recycling facility,” he says.
“Tetra Pak has a number of proactive projects in place in Oceania to promote and increase recycling and, importantly, to develop an end-use market for the recycled material. In fact, in New Zealand, we are very close to announcing a project that will offer a fully circular solution.”
PACKED WITH PURPOSE
“We want to become the most prominent and recognised sustainable water in Australia by offering people an alternative to the default plastic packaging for water,” Laufer says. “We've been impressed by how receptive the market has been to the product, and by the support on the ground from Tetra Pak and Slades.”
Pooch says the company has found in co-packer Slades Beverages not only a nimble business partner prepared to take a chance on a new venture, but one that has embraced sustainability across every facet of its business, from energy use to waste management, and to the type of packaging machinery it will invest in going forward.
Despite the tangible excitement around the product, and projected volumes that could potentially exceed supply, Laufer says that he is not expecting overnight success in Australia. “There's still a lot of consumer education needed around the fact that this is not just another bottled water. We're getting support from the retailers on this front, and we'll be getting behind an education drive ourselves.”
“Whichever way you look at it, mindset and behaviour change is what we need when it comes to plastic pollution. JUST is positioned as an incremental change product,” Laufer says, adding that there are other carton-based water packages available in the US.
“We welcome eco-friendly competition, it drives awareness of the need for change, and grows the category,” Laufer says.
“What has worked for us is developing strategic partnerships with retailers who understand the philosophy of our business – this has seen us double our business last year and we're looking at tripling it this year.
“Expanding into Australia is a key step in our global mission to give people access to a truly ethical water brand which will play a role in reducing the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans,” Laufer concludes.