South African bottled water industry shows 20% growth

18th January 2008 By: Jonathan Faurie

National bottled-water industry body the South African National Bottled Water Association (Sanbwa) reports that the South African bottled-water industry experienced a 20% growth during 2007.

Research by independent specialist food and beverage research company BMI shows that the South African bottled-water market grew by an estimated 33% during 2005 and an additional 27,6% in 2006, follow- ing a consistent annual growth trend in excess of 20% since 2001. These figures reflect total South African consumption through retail, wholesale, on consumption and outlets. These figures also include imports.

Sanbwa chairperson John Weaver says that because of this, it is important that the South African public is assured of the quality of bottled water.

Despite stringent laws that govern the bottled-water industry, which is regulated by the Depart-ment of Health, there have been recent reports that companies are bottling tap water and marketing it as natural or spring water.

From July 28, 2007, all enterprises producing bottled water for sale to the public will be required to state the type of bottled water on the label of the bottle.

Until recently, bottled water in South Africa has been regulated according to the general safety and quality criteria governing the production of food. Following representation and recommendations from Sanbwa, in line with international trends, the Department of Health has drawn up new legisla-tion specific to the bottled-water industry, based on the 1963 international Codex Alimentarius. In accordance with Codex, South Africa’s new bottled-water legislation defines three classes of water that, if correctly bottled, will be safe, healthy and pleasant tasting for the public.

The first is natural water, which is sourced from an underground aquifer and bottled at source. Since this water is not treated, the composition of the bottled water is identical to that of the source water. Natural mineral water and natural spring water fall into this class.

The second class is water defined by origin; this includes rain, glacier, mist, and spring water. These do require antimicrobial treatmentbut no treatments are allowed that would alter the chemical composition of the water.

The third class is prepared water and includes municipal, surface or ground water that has been purified by treatments that change the chemical composition of the water. In the case of municipal water, for instance, previously added chemicals, such as fluoride and chlorine, are removed by reverse osmosis and minerals could be added back.

South Africa’s new bottled-water legislation stipulates what sources of water are acceptable, what types of treatment are required, the maxi-mum levels of certain substances, and what information bottlers must display on their labels.

Under Sanbwa’s stringent criteria for membership and the new South African legislation governing the production of bottled water, it is now illegal for any company to market tap water as natural or spring water. Weaver believes that this law will benefit the industry. “The law that has been put in place will assure consumers that the water that they are consuming will be of good quality.”

Weaver reports that one of the biggest challenges facing the bottled-water industry at the moment is the perceived low cost of entry into the business of bottling water. “To the inexperienced person, bottling water is seen as merely holding an empty bottle at the spring discharge, putting a cap and label on the bottle and making a small profit,” says Weaver.

He adds that bottling water without contaminating it requires significant investment in plant and facilities and a high level of plant hygiene and sanitation programmes since any microbial contamination alters the composition of the water and can result in product recall.

Sanbwa was established in 1998 as an industry body to set quality and safety standards in the absence of legislation. Sanbwa is involved in many functions within the industry.

The company’s main objective is to promote standards to benefit all stakeholders, including bottlers, suppliers, trade, and consumers by ensuring conformance to these by Sanbwa’s members.
Independent third-party auditors audit member plants according to the company’s Guidelines and Standards for Bottling Lines.

Sanbwa samples member and nonmember products from the trade on a monthly basis and has the products analysed for safety parameters at accredited labor-atories. Sanbwa also provides assistance to grass root projects. The company is a member of the Inter-national Council of Bottled Water Associations and the European Federation of Bottled Water and, thus, have input into international trends and technical expertise that it shares with its members.