Their easy location and ability to provide high quality, good tasting water, while saving on fridge space, continue to make bottled water coolers an appealing proposition.
Bottled cooler manufacturers round up the latest trends in functional and aesthetic design by sharing their newest products and developments with cooler innovation Deputy Editor Medina Bailey.
How would you describe the state of the bottled water cooler market at the moment?
Ebac Business Development Manager David Boddy (DB):
“Statistics show that the market is slowing in terms of unit sales. That’s not to say that there isn’t a market for coolers – many people are switching to plumbed in units instead. The POU market has grown by 23% this year as more people are recognising the health and environmental benefits of having a mains connected supply. There is no delivery, storage or manual handling of heavy bottles, the number of delivery lorries on the roads is reduced and injuries caused by lifting the heavy bottles are eradicated. With new cooler designs and smaller bottle sizes, the small office and domestic markets could be very lucrative.”
Zerica Commercial and Marketing Area Director Antonio Zerilli (AZ): “It’s a well established market that is split into two parts: the first one sees customers looking for the lowest possible price and the second one sees them searching for construction quality and hygiene law conformity.”
Cosmetal Marketing Federica Diotallevi (FD): “It depends on the market. In some Western European countries the market is mature and its growth rate is slowing, but in Eastern Europe it is still growing and bringing about new and interesting opportunities.”
Oasis Senior Sales and Marketing Manager Willie McCaskill (WM): “Overall, business is very healthy. However, some more mature markets have slowed down considerably, especially the UK. The poor weather and increase in POU have contributed to this.”
Electrotemp President Andrei Yui (AY): “The market is still expanding in Europe and remains constant in the US. People are very conscious of water quality and therefore prefer to drink either bottled or filtered water. For convenience, many are still buying coolers to chill their water. Our line of coolers is becoming more and more popular in the HOD market as it provides something different from those available at retail stores.”
What benefits do bottled coolers offer?
*DB*: “Bottled coolers are extremely convenient as they can be sited virtually anywhere. This means that they can be positioned in the centre of an office, or in areas of high user concentration. This increases convenience for the end user and maximises water consumption. POU coolers are a lot more restrictive and are rarely situated in the ideal end user location. Bottled coolers do not require installation, which is easier for the distributor and eliminates disruption for the end user.
“Drinking more water can dramatically improve concentration and therefore enhance output from the workforce. In this respect, both bottled and POU coolers are a sensible investment for any business. However, many end users now choose to only drink bottled water as they dislike the taste of tap water. POU coolers are seen by staff as the ‘cheaper option’ – that is if they can be seen at all and not sited in some distant kitchen or canteen. Investing in bottled water coolers is a clear indication of an employer who demands the best of and for their workforce.
“And of course the distributor benefits from the increased revenue of bottled water sales.”
AZ: “Essentially, easy installation because you don’t need a mains water connection, just an electrical plug.”
WM: “The flexibility of movement is a major advantage for bottled coolers.”
AY: “They provide a chilling mechanism for high quality water, precious fridge space isn’t used up and you can save money by buying bulk sized water bottles.”
Do you think bottled cooler companies should also offer POU options?
DB: “As a manufacturer of both types of coolers we have to say, yes. Clearly many of our distributor businesses are geared to delivering bottled water, so providing POU coolers could disrupt their business model. On the other hand, diversifying the fleet range by adding POU options maximises distribution opportunities and opens doors which would otherwise remain firmly closed.
“POU is ideal for public institutions like schools and hospitals where cost is an overriding factor. However, cost control is an important aspect of any business, so demand for POU is unlikely to subside. The environmental impact of delivering bottles is also likely to be an increasing factor as businesses look to address their carbon footprints. Simply ignoring these fundamental economic issues is undoubtedly a risk. Ultimately however, individual companies need to make decisions based on their own attributes and the competitive environment in their target market. Whichever route they choose, Ebac can meet all of their needs with a tailored range of products and financial solutions.”
AZ: “At Zerica we monitor market changes very closely and believe that POU is the future of this sector for various reasons. That is why we offer our customers POU units and inform them about their advantages.”
FD: “It could be an opportunity, but POU tends to cannibalise the bottled cooler market.”
WM: “Yes, nowadays most major accounts want a mixture of bottled and POU, so if companies don’t have both ranges in their product offering, they will lose business.”
AY: “We know many companies that offer one or the other, or both. I’ve seen profitable businesses using any of these models.”
What is your newest bottled cooler?
DB: “The FMax. It represents a leap forward in water cooler technology with a number of advances which set it aside from all other products on the market today.”
AZ: “We have a completely new series with three high quality units. Refresh Baby is an extremely compact table cooler, Refresh B is a professional unit that meets the legal requirements of HACCP for dispensing cold water in hot climates, and Acqua Break has an elegant, modern design and dispenses hot water up to 95°C.”
FD: “The Avant HWG, which offers hot, cold and sparkling water from one machine.”
WM: “We are currently completing the design of our new bottled cooler range, which will use the RR Cooling System, and environmentally beneficial Sanitisation Procedure, which eliminates landfill site wastage.”
AY: “Our Vail Elite and Colorado Springs (CS) Elite self sterilising coolers.”
What are its main features and benefits?
DB: “Three dispense levers tempt the end user with cold, ambient and hot water options. Offering greater choice widens the appeal and drives increased water consumption throughout the year, not just in the hot summer months. Also, the higher burst rate results in more water being dispensed faster, again increasing the potential to sell more.
“The FMax incorporates Ebac’s patented Cassette WaterTrail technology, which replaces all parts that come into contact with water, offering 100% effective sanitisation. This can be changed on customers’ premises in seconds, resulting in more sanitisations in the same amount of time, so it’s both time and money saving.
“With a worldwide focus on reducing carbon footprints, we have come up with the awardwinning vacuum insulated hot tank, which reduces energy consumption by over 30 times and therefore reduces the end user’s energy bill – these are great selling points for distributors.”
AZ: “The Refresh Baby and Refresh B models are fully constructed in stainless steel, including their tanks, which are angle-free for easy, hygienic cleaning. Their water refrigeration circuits have been designed to avoid water stagnation or bad odours, while all of the components in contact with liquids are EEC certified. The units are suitable for cooling and dispensing any liquid type, including fruit juice, milk and wine.
“Complete with a stainless steel cabinet and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic insert, the Acqua Break has an electronic regulator for dispensing water at hot and cold temperatures. Each model comes with a five year quality guarantee and we have even heard reports that our bottled units are still in perfect working order after 25 years!”
FD: “Avant water coolers are characterised by:
SST (self sanitising technology), which inhibits bacterial proliferation inside the cooler and guarantees maximum safety levels for users, no matter what the usage environment.
Patented UV system – used in the UV model, this is cutting edge, anti-bacterial technology that protects the dispensing area against contamination from external sources.
Safety – maintenance and cleaning operations can be carried out extremely easily and quickly thanks to the removable covering, which gives easy access to the inside of the unit.
“These features ensure that the cooler offers savings in terms of time and money, as there is no need to sanitise it frequently. Furthermore, it merges traditional bottle coolers, which usually have only two options, in one machine as the Avant HWG offers hot, cold and sparkling water.”
WM: “ We will be announcing more details at its launch, but we will include some very interesting new features as Oasis has continued to do for almost a century now.”
AY: “Record quantities of very cold water and steaming hot water, a fast water flow, a completely automatic sterilising system, and a five year guarantee for the cold controls and compressor starter.”
*Which feature are distributors and customers asking for at the moment? *
DB: “The biggest factor affecting a lot of foreign markets and coolers is sanitisation. For years the market has been flooded with cheap coolers which are poor quality and difficult to sanitise properly. This, coupled with unreal expectations about the number of sanitisations that a cooler service person can perform each day, has resulted in some companies being unable to adhere to the EBWA policy of three monthly sanitisations for coolers. So people need straightforward simple sanitisation methods that aren’t costly or time consuming.
“Ebac believes that the only 100% effective method of sanitisation is renewal. With Ebac’s patented WaterTrail, every part of the cooler that comes into contact with drinking water is completely replaced and the old one disposed of. Not ones to rest on our laurels, the WaterTrail is now in the third generation – the Cassette WaterTrail. This is now so simple to change that it takes less than 30 seconds and can be replaced on customers’ premises, meaning time and money savings for distributors.”
AZ: “Some distributors and customers just want low prices, so the cost factor overrides any other features. Others are attracted to quality and the safety, hygiene and calibre of the water dispensed. It is this type of customer that will use our machines for the cooling and dispensing of other beverages, such as fruit juice. This is not possible with lower cost machines as they are not covered by the necessary certifications.”
FD: “Customers are asking for ease of use, reliability and cleanliness. Distributors are asking for easy to sanitise, reliable and competitive products. Price is also an important aspect.”
WM: “The two key areas are ease of sanitisation and environmental friendliness. With the Oasis range we feel that we are unique in our ability to achieve this.”
AY: “Many people complain about the small amounts of cold and hot water standard coolers produce. They’re looking for reliable coolers with high volumes of both cold and hot water, as well as inexpensive ways of sterilising and servicing them. These are features that our coolers provide.”
How would you describe the look of your newest cooler?
DB: “The FMax combines market leading features and performance with solid, timeless good looks. Form definitely follows function. There are no details or adornments that do not enhance the function or user experience. Sound ergonomics influence the position of the dispense levers and the duplex nozzle, which itself is designed to ensure that the user cannot touch and contaminate the water supply. Details often overlooked on other coolers, such as the handle and wheels, allow the product to be sited and relocated with ease. Plastic often gets a bad press but for Ebac, ABS is the material of choice, due to its superlative surface quality, colourfastness and lustre. Oh and as well as looking good, it is extremely tough and doesn’t rust.
“At Ebac we understand that aesthetics are also extremely important, as an attractive looking product is likely to be more appealing to the end user and therefore drive increased consumption. We appreciate that every business is unique, corporate identity is king and that not everyone wants a black cooler. The FMax is available in 16 colour combinations with removable side panels that can simply be lifted off and swapped for a different colour, to refresh the appearance, or act as a replacement in the unlikely event that they become damaged. Also, if a customer has very specific requirements, we can even create bespoke panels to suit.”
AZ: “The new series of bottled coolers satisfies various aesthetic requirements. With Acqua Break, we’ve introduced a modern, slimline design with strong features and personality thanks to the stainless steel and polished black insert. Stainless steel also plays a major part in the designs of the Refresh B and Baby. The former has a practical and robust outer casing, while the latter can be totally personalised with digital prints to achieve a certain look or be used as a tool for advertising.”
FD: “The Avant has an innovative look. It is slim, ergonomic and compliant with different environments.”
WM: “The cooler will be very modern looking and, as always from Oasis, robust.” AY: “The Vail is tall and slender with an attractive appearance. It has a sleek, modern look, but also uses classic and elegant lines, ensuring that it will never go out of style.”
Which kind of location would it suit?
DB: “The FMax has a higher burst rate and larger cold water reservoir than other bottled coolers and is also supremely reliable and robust. As such it is ideally suited to locations where there are a lot of users and where water consumption is high. The FMax is perfect for all medium and large size offices and indeed any location where a POU cooler is not the users’ overriding priority.
“With its ‘cut above’ good looks and stunning choice of colour options, the FMax looks great anywhere. The sleek black and silver combination is great for modern offices, while cream works well in more traditional surroundings. Adding brightly coloured red, blue or green side panels creates high impact, draws more attention to the cooler and can increase consumption, especially in places like gyms or sports centres.
“The FMax is a truly versatile cooler that can be used in many different locations and since it features a handle and wheels, if you don’t like where it is, you can just move it!”
AZ: “The new series can suit any location type. Acqua Break is ideal for contemporary settings, Refresh B is suitable for office spaces where hot water is required as it has a sturdy construction, as well as where cold water is needed as it works in hot climates, and Refresh Baby is so compact that it can be placed anywhere.”
FD: “Offices, schools, factories, waiting roo, shops and public spaces.”
WM: “Both domestic and commercial.”
AY: “The Vail cooler has an upmarket look that would complement any modern kitchen or office layout. The CS has an elegant contoured design that also makes it suitable for kitchens and offices. However, its flexible and durable blowmoulded body also make it ideal for areas where rough handling might occur, such as factories and construction sites.”
Do you think a cooler should stand out in a room or blend into the background?
DB: “Bottled water coolers should be sited where they are the most easily accessible by the majority of the users. To drive water consumption, the cooler needs to be seen and not blend into the background. This is not to say that every office should have a bright red cooler, but that the use of colour can help achieve the desired impact. Combining traditional black or cream with contrasting colours, as on the FMax, is a perfect example.
“With POU coolers there isn’t always the choice of positioning – they have to be placed where there is access to the mains water supply, therefore they may be hidden away in a separate kitchen or canteen, which isn’t as easily accessible. The FMax is a truly versatile cooler that can be situated anywhere.
“Many customers have asked us about customisation, so we have created coolers for companies and brands such as the Coca-Cola group, Vodafone and Powwow, to suit their corporate branding. We’ve even gone as far as to put a miniature TV screen onto coolers for a customer.”
AZ: “Again, there are plenty of installation possibilities that can be tailored to the customer’s needs. The new series can meet various design requirements to create the right ambience.”
FD: “They need a wall behind them to hide the back and plug them in, but this is common to all coolers.”
WM: “A cooler should be a catalyst to encourage people to drink more water, so we believe that it should be iconic.”
AY: “We’ve designed our coolers so that they blend in with the room. They effectively meld in with the rest of the appliances in a kitchen. People appreciate the simple, but classic lines of our coolers for this very reason.”
Are cooler colours and shapes influenced by trends in décor, furniture and even fashion?
DB: “It is fair to say that designers take their inspiration from all sorts of areas, although it seems unlikely that our designers at Ebac are influenced by the latest clothing fashions. Our coolers are designed to perform and there are no details or adornments that do not enhance the function or user experience.”
AZ: “In a way, yes, but cooler trends don’t change as quickly as fashion clothing trends!”
FD: “No, but manufacturers influence each other. When a manufacturer comes out with a popular, successful cooler, others tend to copy it.”
WM: “Yes, however care must be taken so that as fashions change, the cooler design will adapt and not look dated.”
AY: “Yes, definitely. What was fashionable 30 years ago is not today. However, there are some looks that stay classic, such as men’s suits. Our coolers are designed to complement modern kitchens, but maintain a longterm look, so that their appearance will have the maximum lifespan possible. They’ll still look good 20 years from now.”
What kind of designs do you think will be popular in the future?
DB: “The change from bulky boxes to sleek designs with clean, crisp lines that are modern and ‘friendly’ looking is likely to continue.”
AZ: “Stainless steel designs with different coloured ABS plastic inserts for the home and office.”
FD: “Square-shaped models in silver and black colours.”
WM: “In time, as we featured a couple of years ago, the use of LCD technology and increased consumer interactivity will become more apparent.”
AY: “What’s fashionable fluctuates wildly, so I am unable to predict trends like this. Our focus is on developing coolers that will look good no matter what’s in fashion.”
Which factors do you have to consider when deciding which materials to use?
DB: “Coolers come under a lot of strain from the heavy bottles on top and continual usage so it’s important that the materials used to make them are hardwearing and robust. Distributors don’t want the cost and inconvenience of fixing or replacing broken coolers, so they must be able to withstand heavy usage throughout the life of the cooler. Our coolers are made from ABS polymer, so they are sturdy and safeguard against rust if spillages around the cooler occur.
“We are certain of the longevity and durability of our coolers, so we are prepared to provide a substantial warranty should anything occur.”
AZ: “We select materials according to their properties and how they will work with the finished product.”
FD: “Hygiene, robustness, resilience and cleanability.”
WM: “Cost is important, as is flexibility in manufacturing. However, the quality and integrity of the materials used for all parts is vital, especially the ones that come into contact with water.”
AY: “All plastics in contact with water must be food grade and not transfer plastic flavours to the water. The steel needs to be very high grade in order for the cold and hot tanks to be properly formed and the external materials must be durable, so that the shell matches the 25 year lifespan of the cooler’s internal components.”
Do you carry out market research among your customers?
DB: “At Ebac we take on board customer feedback from any source about any aspect of the company – not just our coolers. It could come from a customer who’s called our contact centre about a domestic cooler or a distributor about the finance packages we offer. We will always listen and investigate any suggestions.
“We understand our customers as well as we understand ourselves. We know from listening to them what they want and this enables us to continually produce ground breaking products that deliver benefits to the distributor as well as the end user.
“It was in reaction to customer feedback that we adapted our SlimCool domestic cooler from a bottled water cooler to one that can filter ordinary tap water, making it more convenient and economical for the user.
AZ: “Yes, absolutely. Retaining a constant dialogue between the company and our customers is a must for Zerica. It enables our development department to progress in the same direction as our customers’ requests.”
FD: “Of course, customers are the most important source for developing successful products.”
AY: “For sure, we listen closely to our customers. And they not only tell us what they want as distributors, but also reveal to us what their customers are looking for. And we design coolers to match their needs.”
How do you market your coolers? Do you focus on technical features or the way they look?
DB: “The philosophy at Ebac is to produce innovative products that provide clear benefits and add value to both the product and to our customers’ businesses. In our marketing communications we tend to focus on these aspects, as they set us aside from our competitors. No one else boasts 100% sanitisation from complete replacement of all water contact parts. No one else boasts a hot tank that is 30 times more energy efficient and saves the end user money.
“At Ebac we focus intently on getting the aesthetic design of our coolers just right, but tend not to shout about it in our marketing as we prefer to let our customers decide. With the FMax selling at a rate of one every four minutes, we think they quite like it.”
AZ: “The Zerica series was created by paying a lot of attention to technical aspects, in order to ensure that our customers receive the best manufacturing features and high performance levels, so these elements are focused on.”
WM: “We usually focus more on technical issues, as they are important to most distributors.”
AY: “Looks are a major factor in the final purchasing decision, but the unique features of our coolers are the key factors involved in our sales success.”
Which is your best selling cooler? Why do you think it is so popular?
DB: “Since its launch in late 2000, the EMax has been our best selling cooler with unit sales in excess of half a million, making it Europe’s biggest selling water cooler. The EMax is supremely reliable and features WaterTrail technology, making it very low maintenance and keeping lifetime ownership costs to a minimum.
“In recent months we have experienced phenomenal success with the FMax – it’s been an instant hit with distributors and end users alike and increased our customer base by a massive 20%. Why is it so popular? Because in the words of our current, highly successful advertising campaign, it is ‘Probably The Best Watercooler In The World.’”
AZ: “The Refresh Baby because it answers a lot of requests from the international marketplace:
* compact and easy to place anywhere
* stainless steel construction
* suitable for beverages, as well as water
* constructed without any fittings or plastic parts that come into contact with liquids
* can be 100% personalised
* has a five year guarantee.”
FD: “The Avant, because it tops the market in terms of hygiene, technology, design and ergonomics.” WM: “The Oasis RR Platform is the most successful cooler ever produced globally due to its reliability and ease of sanitisation.” AY: “Both our Vail and CS coolers are best sellers. Because our products are unconventional they give our distributors a powerful advantage over their competitors, as they are able to sell coolers with proprietary features that are unavailable elsewhere. As a result they constantly outsell other brands. It’s like selling iPods when your competition is still selling cassette players.”
Are you developing any new bottled coolers at the moment?
DB: “Ebac’s technical and design team are focused not only on developing the next generation of coolers, but on the continual improvement of our existing product range to ensure that Ebac remains at the forefront of the cooler market.”
AY: “Yes, we’re working on several projects. You’ll have to wait until we’re ready to launch them to find out more…”
What does the future hold for the bottled cooler industry?
DB: “Current cooler technology is heavily influenced by the enormous 19 litre bottles, millions of which are in use worldwide. Coolers must be designed with this in mind – taking account of their size and weight, so change is limited until these do.”
Ebac Technical Director Phillip Walton: “I think the future of coolers will be geared towards simpler sanitisation to enable companies in countries who don’t sanitise coolers in line with the EBWA policy of three-monthly sanitisations to catch up with those who currently do. If these companies were to use Ebac coolers with our patented WaterTrail technology, there would be no question as to the effectiveness of their sanitisation methods, and ease of changing means the three monthly policy is highly attainable.”
WM: “The industry is still very young and needs to develop, not only in the design of coolers, but also with regards to the collective promotion of their benefits – in a domestic sense, as well as in a commercial environment. It must also concentrate on unique designs and added value features.”
AY: “As pollution continues to compound its effects on the environment and people become more and more sensitised to this issue, the water business will continue to prosper. Everything indicates that this industry will continue to grow in both importance and sales volume terms.”
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