Innovation: Working for Industry Excellence

August 31, 2012

Innovation differs from improvement in that it refers to the notion of doing something different rather than doing the same thing better.   It is to innovation that the water cooler industry has increasingly turned its attention over the past few decades.

Innovation today is not only about new products. It is also about reinventing business processes and building entirely new markets that meet untapped customer needs, taking corporate organizations built for efficiency and rewiring them for creativity and growth. “There are a lot of different things that fall under the rubric of innovation” says Vijay Govindarajan, a professor at Dartmouth college's Tuck School of Business and author of “Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators”

Companies in the water cooler industry work every day to innovate – distributors, bottlers, laboratories and suppliers share their achievements, to build up industry excellence. Below we take a look at some of the recent progress made within the water cooler industry.

Water Coolers

All industry members – from manufacturers to distributors – have a key role to play in extending the range of services and benefits that water coolers can offer in all types of outlet and supply.  Cosmetal, a leading Italian producer of enterprising solutions for providing and delivering drinking water, states:  “Our spirit of observation, coupled with a profound knowledge of the water cooler sector and collaboration with the nearby University of Camerino, enable us to respond proactively to evolutions in the market, and to interact with the latter thanks to a constant flow of innovative proposals”.

Numerous other companies also work on improving the consumer experience.    ZERICA®, one of the first entrants into the water cooling sector back at the end of last century, launched in May 2011 a brand new cooling technology, the “CoolGroove”, at the Milano Venditalia Exhibition. CoolGroove is a hybrid system which merges the cooling system and the filtration of the water in a “single product”.

Crystal Mountain Coolers has, in turn,  introduced DryGuard™,  a system completely eliminating water overflow caused by a faulty bottle, one of the most common causes of leaks.  It also launched the Everest water cooler, winner of Watercoolers Europe “2011 Cooler of the Year” Award.

“Crystal Mountain's Everest water cooler was a champion in many ways - style, quality and function. It includes the feature that we consider the most pioneering to our coolers in the last year - the newly-developed, patented water contact system that can be quickly and easily removed entirely in one piece, with no screws, for maximum hygiene and speed of sanitisation”, pointed out Diane Koyich, International Liaison for Crystal Mountain and Immediate Past Chair of the International Council of Bottled Water Associations (ICBWA).

Energy efficiency is becoming increasingly important for businesses. EEF, a manufacturers’ organisation, recently voiced fears that industrial energy prices could soar by up to 6-7% if the UK Government's proposals to double the carbon price go ahead.

Innovative operations therefore have a new role to play. As of 2010, all new Eden Springs water coolers have received Energy Star certification ensuring 50% less energy consumption. Also Angel Springs has banked on an Energy Star label for bottled water coolers in the UK: the new Everest dispenser by Crystal Mountain. Indeed, most water cooler companies currently aim at using cleaner energy and reducing carbon footprint, to benefit the environment.

Packaging

“As all the packaging products have to fit the existing cooler systems, bottling machines and racks, it is very hard to succeed with a revolutionary idea in that industry. Creative ideas need brave decisions which are, of course, hard to take in the current economy climate”, said Günter Ausserwöger, Head of Division Kavo at Greiner Packaging.

“Greiner Packaging will not, however, stop offering inventive solutions to this industry and will remain the leading packaging partner for the water cooler companies in Europe”, he concluded.

Greiner Packaging introduced last year an interesting packaging innovation, the 5-gallon bottle made of the BPA-free material TritanT. TritanT comes from the U.S. and was approved in February 2011 by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).   Greiner Packaging also uses TritanT for the production of the popular Kavodrink bottles.

Moreover, Greiner Packaging launched in 2011 a new 5-gallon Cap called Kavocap. It is a one-piece, two-material product with a new, original sealing and valve concept.

Nestlé Waters invests in bioplastics research to study the overall potential of renewable materials, with the long term goal of creating a 100% petroleum-free bottle. The company is also studying the sanitary and operational qualities of alternative materials (bioplastics, cellulose, PLA, etc.). Developing these technologies so that they meet quality manufacturing standards is a research priority.

Last spring Nestlé Waters' UK division announced an investment in a new state-of-the-art bottling and warehousing facility in Buxton, England. The factory makes lightweight bottles, using an average of 25% less PET plastic across all still water formats. In early 2012, the companys’ Vittel brand launched a new bottle made of PET plastic partly produced from molasses, a renewable plant resource and a by-product of sugar cane processing.

Another major packaging company in the water business, Greif Inc., was honoured as a Gold winner in the 23rd edition of the DuPont Awards for Packaging Innovation.  Greif's Cimplast operations in Brazil uses a polymer compatibilizer created by DuPont,  Fusabond®, to turn multilayer plastic agrochemical bottle waste into automotive lubricant bottles, rigid pipes and other useful products.  Thanks to this engineering innovation, more than 150,000 tons of empty agrochemical plastic bottles have been collected since 2002, saving about 374,000 barrels of crude oil and more than 160,000 tons of CO2 equivalents.

Water quality and hygiene

Water quality and hygiene continue to be very important to the industry, leading to the introduction of inventive techniques.  For example, Food Hygiene Technologies Ltd.  recently launched a new disinfection and sanitizing technology  that increases the period over which the products kill bacteria to weeks rather than hours.

Oasis International announced a few months ago a new partnership agreement with Philips Lighting, enabling the company to integrate the InstantTrust UV-disinfectant into its own technology.

With this solution, water dispensed from coolers is disinfected instantly and efficiently.  Peter Benua, Managing Director for Oasis Europe noted: "The most unique innovation for OASIS this year is the integration of the Philips Instant Trust UV system into our Kalix POU cooler as well as Aqua Pointe and Versafiller bottle fillers. The technology takes UV treatment to a whole new level in terms of effectiveness and environmental friendliness." 

Distribution

As an example of innovation in distribution operations, Eden Springs has developed a routing system for all of its transport vehicles that enables the company to optimise delivery services for fuel efficiency and environmental impact. In addition it uses eco-friendly fuel-efficient vehicles, including Euro 5 trucks.  The company also operates a customer programme that encourages the disposal of cups into recycling bins, to reduce negative environmental impact.

Innovation also impacts on storage systems. Last May, a selection of tools was launched at the International Packaging Exhibition, HISPACK 2012, in Barcelona, which are designed to help distributors classify, find or correctly place each one of their products.

Among the tools launched were: a hand-held tool scanner which enables easy identification of those products which are about to pass their sell-by date; security antennae that show exactly which products were stolen and labels that make it easier to monitor the journey of a product from source to Point of Sale.

Also on show were demonstrations of RFID label encoding; an antitheft device with RFID antenna demonstration; GLM automatic labeling with brand labels and Checkpoint Tamper Tag anti-theft device. All of these new tools and processes will invariably make product delivery and management easier, and will improve consumer satisfaction.

These examples indicate that the spirit of innovation is alive and well within the water cooler industry. We look forward to reporting on further new products, processes and creative solutions!

Photo provided by Greiner Packaging