The following content originally appeared in issue 63 of Cooler Plus, which you can subscribe to here.
With a focus in the issue on coolers in the home, we thought we’d look for a company that has achieved success in this sector and came across Aqua Angels Europe in the Czech Republic. Beyond being successful in placing residential coolers, the business is unusual in respect of its water source and choice of water packaging. We talked to founder and CEO Ivana Sankot to find out more.
When did Aqua Angels Europe start trading? And what were your biggest challenges at the start?
We started trading in January 2013. As we are Czech, the first country where we launched Aqua Angels products was the Czech Republic where there is a long tradition of highly-mineralised water brands, for very affordable prices with a very broad spectrum of brands. There is also a huge tradition of water in PET barrels at a low price per litre, as well as a tradition of drinking tap water.
We launched low mineralised water in glass barrels dedicated for the premium segment and seven times more expensive than the local spring water in PET barrels. It was a challenge as a whole. For a small family company, these were hard conditions in which to launch a new brand.
However, we were quite sure that we had identified a gap in the market with an interesting target group.
What had you been doing before you started Aqua Angels, and why did you decide to get into the water cooler industry?
I have been active in marketing, all my professional career. At the beginning, it was brand management of luxury cosmetics, then media and finally I had a dream job, I became PR and marketing manager for Marks and Spencer for Central Europe.
All of these positions gave me amazing opportunities to go through lots of challenges and I was lucky enough to experience re-launches of brands, re-brandings etc. So I learned a lot! My husband motivated me in finding the courage to create our own business.
We had no experience of the water segment, but by coincidence we found an unused water source in Iceland. We were amazed, and somehow naïve, so we decided to risk it, take our whole life-savings and we just went for it!
You chose to use special glass packaging. Why?
We were certain we had to distribute our Aqua Angels in very unusual packaging – for two reasons.
Firstly, there is such huge competition that I feel you have to be unique and original to succeed. Secondly, Icelandic glacier water has a very interesting composition, beneficial for lifestyle. Therefore it was quite clear that we wanted to distribute it in glass packaging.
We were inspired by the system of water distribution in the United States in the 19th century where water was distributed in 5 gallon glass barrels. We were surprised by that and it inspired us to create our unique packaging – 3 gallon glass barrels in wooden cages which we managed to protect internationally as an industrial packaging.
The wooden cage is a part of the design. Clients love it! It works also as a logistic construction for international logistics to carefully transport the barrels. The cage is also great for clients, because they can store three barrels on top of each other, which save a lots of space.
Glass was the clear choice for us. Glass is manufactured from natural materials such as sand, limestone and dolomite. Glass is a 100% recyclable packaging material. It can be recycled again and again, it is almost immortal – using less energy and natural resources. And that’s good for all of us. Products made from glass look natural, appear healthy and are usually of high quality. The diverse colours and shapes of glass packaging give products their own originality. Glass containers are completely safe for human health, they do not react with their contents and they are impervious to other materials and therefore completely hygienic. Glass is a purely natural product that also offers a reward: there’s no transfer of taste between glass and its contents. In fact, glass is a unique packaging material that requires no additional processes to protect the flavour and quality of its contents. It was proven by psychological research that if you like packaging from which you are drinking, you enjoy it more!
You source natural glacier water from Iceland, which is unusual as it is highly alkaline, with low mineral content but a high oxygen content. Why was that your choice? And, how important is water quality to your business model and consumer perception?
We decided on the Icelandic water source because this kind of composition is really unique and an opposite composition to most of the water composition in the Czech Republic.
Here, we have plenty of water which is great as a medical cure – with high mineral content, traditionally called a ‘Spa water’. However, water here usually has a low pH value = acidic, lower than 7. For some people, it is hard to drink water with a higher amount of minerals because they do not manage to drink enough water. Dehydration can result in headache, migraines and a feeling of exhaustion. For people who have digestion problems, water with acid pH can be also hard to consume.
Therefore, we decided to go for highly alkaline water (pH 8.8 is almost 80x times higher than the neutral pH 7). And clients who are interested in a healthy lifestyle and prefer alkaline food, are grateful for naturally alkaline water.
I would say that the unique design of the barrels is the first attraction for our clients. But then, they also start to ask ‘what is inside?’. Therefore, our design would not be successful without the perfect contents and in our case, it goes absolutely ‘hand in hand’.
Which coolers did you choose to use, and why?
We were searching for a supplier of a cooler globally – like we do it with all our components or suppliers. We were trying to find the cooler that would fit perfectly with the luxurious design of the barrels. That is why decided to used SlimCool from British manufacturer Ebac. Its slim design looks like it was created for Aqua Angels barrels! It is minimalist and clients perceive it more as an interesting addition to their home or office interior.
Moreover, SlimCool was the winner because of two other things. It is the only cooler with an air filter to protect the water and also the water-trail which is changed quarterly. This means there is no chemical cleaning and clients perceive this as a key benefit. Also, there is no warm water. Just cold or room-temperature. That is safe for children and clients like it because many of them prefer room-temperature water.
Aqua Angels’ water is sourced from artesian underground source with glacier origin.
In much of Europe the ‘home’ part of ‘home and office delivery’ has not really happened. How much of your business is residential rather than office?
When we created our concept, it was with a goal to succeed in the premium corporate segment. In the Czech Republic, it is not usual to deliver water in glass barrels for home use at all. What happened is that 70% of our clients are from the private segment and we specialise in home delivery.
How did you achieve that? Is your main focus on homes rather than offices?
There are a few reasons. People start by preferring to drink from glass. Highly demanding clients enjoy home delivery and there is a boom in this service here. Also, they start to focus on a healthy lifestyle and this is more typical for the home than in the office. If you consider buying something for your home, the design is one of the most important parameters.
Both your water and glass offering are unusual, which automatically puts you into a ‘premium’ space. How do you balance the essential maintenance of quality, versus pricing?
Yes, we are not a mass brand and we will always be focusing on quality. What we understand from the premium segment is that people are interested in high quality products for reasonable and logical prices. And this is also our price strategy. What also happened is that some of the business owners said at the beginning: “I like your water and I will buy if for my family. If I am happy with it, I will consider it for my company.” That is why our corporate segment is growing and we guess that within few years, it might be equal to the private segment.
You supply ‘small pack’ as well as 11.3 litre glass bottles for coolers. Is this a separate part of the business for the hotel and restaurant sector or does small pack also go to your residential customers?
Some of our private customers combine barrels with bottles but the barrels are still key. One of our products is a metal thermo bottle into which clients can dispense water from the barrels to ‘take away’ for sports, work or, for children – school. So in general, glass bottles are more suited to the Horeca segment.
What are your key marketing tools? Advertising, or social media, or something else? With such a premium offering, have you found special ways to market the benefits of Aqua Angels?
What is quite interesting is that we do not invest too much into paid advertising. We just do minimalist online marketing. What is absolutely key for Aqua Angels is to be there at events where potential clients are present.
They want to test our water and see it in real life. Therefore we do mostly direct communication with direct sales. We try to educate people about water in general, explain to them what they are interested in. I often say that we manage to create a positive relationship between our clients and water in general – and this is what I love about my job. When mothers come to you and say: ‘you taught my child to drink water’, it gives a huge boost to your business efforts.
Other water cooler companies in Europe have expanded their offering to include coffee. Is this something Aqua Angels would consider for the future?
Definitely not. What we might do in the future is add other quality products to be delivered to our clients’ home together with the water when they start asking for it. We will go step by step. Firstly, we need to be sure that our clients are 100% happy with our services, CRM system and logistics. Then it is just about to offering more products in which clients are interested.
What’s next for Aqua Angels?
We are a young – three year old – brand, but we are internationally expanding. Currently, outside the Czech republic we have successful distributors in Slovakia, Italy, the Baltic countries, the east part of Russia and will soon be launching in Holland.
We are searching for partners across continental Europe, Great Britain, the US, Moscow, Africa and Middle East and China. What I love about this expansion is that we can easily help our partners by recommending where to focus and how to build the business. As we do direct deliveries to our clients, we have very precise feedback on everything we do and sincere comments on why clients like our water and why they decide to buy it.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2017