Arrowhead’s LA Story: Q&A with Nestlé Waters’ Pia Baker and Nelson Switzer

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Arrowhead water plant Los Angeles 1917

The ideas for marketing bottled water have changed in a century, but at least for the Arrowhead Brand of mountain spring water the location hasn’t. The Nestlé Waters-owned brand just celebrated the 100th anniversary of its Los Angeles factory, which still bottles water that is gathered from the same springs in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Arrowhead Water historic

The factory is one of the oldest manufacturing facilities in the city that is still in continuous use today. The Arrowhead bottling facility and an affiliated delivery branch employ 158 people and are the operational nexus for one of the six regional spring-water brands across the US that is owned by Nestlé Waters North America. The Arrowhead brand itself is actually 123 years old.

Arrowhead water display

“We’ve got six regional spring brands around the country and we consider them jewels,” Pia Baker, group marketing manager for Nestlé Waters North America, told brandchannel.

“Some brands have to mine very deeply or create stories to connect with consumers, but these brands like Arrowhead have incredibly rich histories. It’s been part of the San Bernardino Mountains and the California community for more than a century.”

Arrowhead water label

Environmental groups sued the federal government over Nestlé Waters’ withdrawal of millions of gallons of water from its source in the mountains, at a place called Strawberry Creek, under an old permit. Last September, a federal court ruled in favor of the US Forest Service and determined that the USFS did not violate federal procedures by allowing Nestlé to continue transporting water through the San Bernardino National Forest, and that because the company submitted a “timely and sufficient application for renewal” of its permit to the USFS, the permit remains valid.

While Nestlé Waters was not a party to the case, the ruling confirmed that the United States Forest Service can continue to move forward with the permit renewal process related to the Arrowhead brand. The Forest Service has acknowledged, and a federal judge upheld, that Nestlé Waters’ current permit is in full force and effect.

Still, environmental groups are worried about a connection between watersheds in an area inhabited by some imperiled species.

brandchannel talked with Baker and with Nelson Switzer, Nestlé Waters’ chief sustainability officer, about marketing bottled water in California and beyond, and what has changed in the past century.

bc: First of all, what’s the status of the environmental review?

Nelson Switzer - chief sustainability officer - Nestle Waters North AmericaNelson Switzer (right): As part of the re-issuance of the permit, the US Forest Service has been working closely with us to ensure that we’re providing them with all of the information they need about their decision. That’s been ongoing. We’re looking forward to a decision. Of course, the permit that we have is still in full force and effect. We’re still operating under all of the regulatory requirements and continuing to ensure we do so in an environmental and socially sustainable way.

bc: What are your thoughts on celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles facility?

Pia Baker / Nestle Waters North AmericaPia Baker (right): It’s one of the oldest continuously operating facilities in the city. Our employees are incredibly proud of that heritage as well. One employee has been with the company for more than 45 years. That’s not something many brands can say.

bc: Marketing bottled water today is quite different than a century ago, of course. How would you describe the difference, from the perspective of the Arrowhead brand?

Baker: It’s obviously quite different. All the products were quite different at the turn of the last century.

Arrowhead water promotion

Behind the brand name, for starters: There’s an almost perfect rock formation in the shape of an arrowhead at the base of the mountain. Originally, Arrowhead was bottled and provided to guests at a luxurious spa and resort frequented by Hollywood celebrities. It was seen as a health benefit.

arrowhead_water_ad_archival

In the 1800s and early 1900s a lot of water was contaminated; it was surface water and people would get sick from drinking it. Spring water naturally emerges to the surface of the earth, then it’s filtered and keeps all of its natural minerals. It has a functional origin and changed people’s lives in providing a healthy and high-quality source that they didn’t have.

Fast forward to today and we’ve gotten to the point now where people are choosing bottled water over other sugary beverages such as soda. When 70 percent of beverages are consumed in a packaged format and people have a choice of what to drink, it’s a health choice.

Arrowhead water plant Los Angeles

bc: At a time when the state is just recovering from a long drought, how does Nestlé and its Arrowhead brand see itself as a water steward in California and not part of the problem?

Nelson: A few ways. The first is that we’ve always been part of the solution and demonstrated leading practices in water stewardship, whether it’s efficiencies in operation or specific collective actions. For example, we’ve recently put in systems within our manufacturing facilities that are quite leading-practice for recycling and recovering our water and using that in our cooling units.

In 2016 alone we projected to save 55 million gallons of water; we actually saved more than 62 million gallons of water. And last year we collected 32 million gallons from the Arrowhead spring, so we’ve almost recovered twice as much.

Also in our manufacturing process, it’s incredibly environmentally efficient. Our average within our bottling facilities is about 1.32 gallons of water used for every gallon that we bottle. Compare that to sugared beverages or carbonated soft drinks or juices or beer, we’re incredibly efficient. That’s one thing that demonstrates our commitment and how we really think about this.

We’re also involved in a great project in the Cucamonga Valley. It used to be all aerospace manufacturing and as a result of much of that industrial activity having left, they left behind a lot of contamination and pollution that affected groundwater in that area. We became involved in a project for in situ treatment, treating the water in place. Now we’re projecting 237 million gallons of water per year that now is potable and that people can use for drinking or sanitation needs. We’re actually putting back more and restoring more water than we’re collecting in a big way. And we’re partners in a water-technology accelerator called Imagine H2O, based in San Francisco.

bc: As far as your brand architecture is concerned, Nestlé Waters treats each of these regional brands separately to a great degree, right? Although with commonalities.

Baker: We consider them gems. We’re very proud of all these regional brands, especially in this day and age when people are looking for foods and beverages that come from their regions that are somewhat local. For example, you can’t buy Poland Spring water in Florida or California; it’s based in Maine. Zephyr Hills has been a brand for 50 years that is only sourced in Florida and is distributed 95 percent in Florida. They’re local brands. It’s exciting for spring water because it’s a natural product that emerges from the earth and has the flavor of the region and the [geologic formations] there.

For example, we just launched a campaign for Poland Spring, “Greatness springs from here.” It’s a celebration of the community that our brand has roots in. We highlight this woman named Edna who’s an ambulance driver and an amazing product of Maine, so strong and fierce. We loved her and the community she’s part of because it speaks to the brand values and the community.

Nelson: One of the things that makes the product so sustainable is the way we operate it. Water itself is a renewable resource. As long as you manage the water system, the aquifer, and protect it, water will always flow. That’s part of what makes our brands so unique. We work diligently to protect those watersheds and the system so they’ll be sustainable into perpetuity.


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