One of the biggest challenges is working to properly educate governments and risk averse facilities managers.

Michael Hurst

Watermark Consultancy

December 17, 2014

When the industry moved into Europe with the formation of IBWA Europe, Watermark went with it - to never to look back.

  • WE

    Mike, you have been involved in the industry almost since its inception. Can you tell us how you became involved with watercoolers?

  • Michael Hurst

    My first contact was a phone call in the early 1990’s from Peter Maddock, owner of Hollywell Spring and chair of the infant BWCA. At that time I was Regional Microbiologist for the UK’s Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food in Reading just west of London. Peter’s offices were a few miles east along the Motorway in Slough and his source within easy reach of my laboratory to the west - perfect positioning!. I had had a special interest in farm spring water for years and was delighted to assist an exciting new industry. I helped Peter and was soon asked to work with the BWCA to develop the quality standards including sanitization, that were regarded a major part of the BWCA ethos. My laboratory quickly became the testing centre for the industry and business grew as the industry prospered. 20 years ago my lab was shut as part of a Government rationalisation and I formed Watermark taking all my watercooler and bottled water work with me. When the industry moved into Europe with the formation of IBWA Europe, Watermark went with it - to never to look back. I served on the first ever IBWA Europe Technical Committee as it was then known.

  • WE

    What were the biggest challenges you faced in the early days of your business?

  • Michael Hurst

    Once I had built my list of clients up and taken on work with NSF to fill the gaps my problems were mostly those of an industry new to the UK and Europe. For example when we began, the ruling of the UK authorities was that watercoolers were ‘refillable containers’. This meant that they had to be emptied and cleaned every day. Luckily some important work was published in the USA that showed that coolers fitted with the bayonet/air filter systems gave excellent protection against bacterial aerosols sprayed around coolers under controlled conditions. We were able to use this data to argue that coolers thus equipped were not refillable containers. The three-month sanitisation frequency proposed by the BWCA was accepted by the UK government and the industry was able to set off on its current course.

  • WE

    What different countries have you been involved with working in the industry, what are the similarities and differences with each market?

  • Michael Hurst

    I was lucky enough to travel all over Europe once IBWAE/EBWA began. In particular Hans Mommsen of the EBWA Secretariat and I went on numerous missions to provide preliminary hygiene and bottling training to emerging national Cooler Associations from places like Romania, Slovakia, Russia, Ukraine and Turkey as the industry moved east. Since then whilst most my work has been in the UK and Ireland I also have worked with American, Australian, Belgian, Canadian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Maltese, New Zealander, Norwegian, Polish Portuguese, Russian and Swedish clients. It is good to see all EBWA members working to the standards that we set up all those years ago. The only difficult issues that I have had to deal with were in Eastern Europe where former communist officials were unfamiliar with EU law on bottled waters and who were seriously misinterpreting regulations new to them. I was asked to give presentations to government officials in Kiev, Riga and Vilnius to explain EBWA and EU standards and hopefully smoothed the way for the cooler industries there.

  • WE

    What are your views on the future of our industry?

  • Michael Hurst

    The battle on convincing governments and the general population that people function better and are healthier when fully hydrated has probably been won. Also, the diabetes explosion means that sugary drinks are under a cloud and water is in the ascendant. This means that there is a strong market for machines dispensing water as well as hot drinks. It is my view that the cooler and vending industries industry will slowly move towards each other as vending companies realise the potential of supplying good drinking water. Bottled water will continue to flourish especially where tap water quality is not the best. Filters can only do so much despite what some manufacturers might claim. I foresee a strong future for the second generation bag in box systems that are just arriving; these are attractive, store easily and have gone some way towards dealing with early recyclability issues. But let’s not forget POU which will continue strongly especially with the exciting new machines appearing aimed at the smal office and domestic market.

  • WE

    What challenges is the watercooler industry still encountering?

  • Michael Hurst

    One of the biggest challenges is working to properly educate governments and risk averse facilities managers. I did some research on bisphenol A for EBWA in the late 1990’s. We couldn’t find any in rinsings from old heavily washed polycarbonate bottles. Yet the concerns still grow despite repeated studies and statements by the European Food Standards Agency. Nothing changes – emotions not logic rule! Then we have the repeated concerns about bacterial counts it water. Amazingly despite a definitive statement by the WHO as long ago as 2002 that the bacterial flora of water from coolers and bottles was not harmful, we still have labs and customers getting worried about perfectly normal TVC counts.

  • WE

    What are your own plans for the future of you and your company?

  • Michael Hurst

    It is a shock to find that I and senior members of the industry have reached our mid 60’s. We were quite young when the industry began! I had thought that by now I would have had a successor in the industry and that I could spend more time on voluntary work. However, that does not quite seemed to have happened, so I continue to help Watermark clients mostly in the UK these days as I have little time for travel, but have agreed to write for Watercoolers Europe and Cooler Plus and am happy to take on any interesting work! I am also very lucky to have my colleague Ewa Hagstedt of Watermark Nordic to work with and take on the mantle at WE meetings.

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