May 20, 2011 - OPB - Tsunami Brings Oregon Water To Japanese Market

May 24, 2011

May 20, 2011 - OPB - Tsunami Brings Oregon Water To Japanese Market

Tsunami Brings Oregon Water To Japanese Market

David Nogueras | May 20, 2011 | Portland, OR

People in Japan are still trying to piece their lives together, following the earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear disaster there.

Fears of nuclear contamination have caused a drinking water shortage. A Central Oregon company has stepped in to help meet demand.

Culver Oregon is about a half hour north of Redmond. It’s home to the Earth 2O water company and it’s source, Opal Springs.

Here water literally springs forth from the rock at rate of 180,000 gallons each minute.

Steve Emery is the CEO and president of Earth 2O. He says nobody is exactly sure just how the underground aquifer is spread out.

Steve Emery: “They believe it’s the Cascade Range that is filtering slowly down to this giant underwater lake. It found that little weak spot and that created Opal Springs where it’s coming out.”

Emery says he’s been trying for years to get into the Japanese market. The disaster provided the company with an opportunity, but he is looking to build a relationship that will last once the country gets back to something close to normal.

Steve Emery: “Even when it comes back to being it, the trust level is going to be questionable. We’re trying to partner with somebody that this is a long term, that brand Earth 2O is there not just as a quick shot but more as a long term play in the Japanese.”

Many environmental groups, like the Oregon Environmental Council, advise against buying bottled water. On its website, the Environmental Council says that people often buy “exotic spring waters based on the false assumption that these are more pure than what comes out of the tap.”

Emery maintains that he uses sustainable methods to package his product. He says the water here doesn’t require treatment or filtration, and he says these and other attributes were selling points for the Japanese distributors who came calling after the disaster struck.

Still he acknowledges it’s the underlying shortage that’s driving the demand.

Steve Emery: “There buying it from everywhere. They’re getting it from Canada, from Korea, from China, anywhere they can get water. Because it’s contaminated. It’s just not drinkable.”

Just how much bottled water Japan is importing remains an open question.

Tom Lauria is a spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association.

He says while there aren’t any hard numbers yet, some analysts have predicted a spike in sales as much as 10 percent. But Lauria says much of that will be met by large corporate players like Nestle Waters, that have their own Japanese divisions.

Tom Lauria: “So even before these terrible occurrences, their population relied on bottled water extensively. This just makes it more on an emergency basis.“

But the sheer magnitude of the need means smaller companies like Earth 2O have their feet in the door.

Emery says he’ll need to hire 5 new workers just to meet the demand and he says the company will add another 8 hour shift dedicated exclusively to the Japanese orders.

But whether that door stays open once the disaster subsides is another question.

Gary Hemphill is the Managing Eirector of the Beverage Marketing Corporation. That’s a consulting group for the beverage industry.

Gary Hemphill: “Generally speaking, it doesn’t make economic sense to ship water over great distances with the exception of situations like there where you have a catastrophe, I guess the other exception would be in the import market.”

Hemphill says companies like Evian and Fiji are able to import their products by marketing the exotic attributes of their water and selling the product at a premium.

But according to Dalton Hobbs, Assistant Director for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Oregon water sources have their own unique qualities.

Dalton Hobbs: “I think there’s some very interesting potential for Oregon producers here that would be bottling in had the wherewithal to differentiate it in a marketplace that is increasingly crowded, unfortunately.”

How long it will take for Japan to bounce back and replenish its own water supply remains to be seen. Economists this week reported the country’s GDP shrank nearly one percent, pushing the country back into an economic recession.

© 2011 OPB

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