KWAZULU-NATAL – WHEN members of a small Kranskop community drilled down in search of water to meet the daily needs of community members, they could not have known that from it would spring one of South Africa’s purest and most beloved bottled water brands – aQuellé.
Found to be too pure for domestic use, the spring water “had to be bottled” and was introduced to the local market in 1998 – with immediate and unexpected success.
Now, 20 years on, the water business continues to support community development projects, with 100% of the profits ploughed back into these initiatives.
Reflecting on two decades as one of the country’s leading water brands, aQuellé managing director Arno Stegen said joy and thankfulness were the defining themes of the brand’s journey so far as well as its 20-year celebrations.
Stegen said people, and especially the brand’s community work, had always been the driving force or the “why” behind the business.
“The reason for our existence is our calling to help people in need and make their lives better. Therefore, by extension, aQuellé is not just about making profits but about giving the consumer a high-quality, affordable, value-for-money product.”
This market strategy has seen a sustained growth in consumer demand, with the fully automated Kranskop plant continuously expanding from just 360m2 in 1998 to over 18 000m2 today, and the addition of a second bottling plant in Franschhoek in 2016 to provide the Western Cape with aQuellé’s natural spring water range.
Whereas staff initially loaded product onto a few small bakkies by hand, aQuellé’s automated warehouse today has a 6,000-pallet storage capacity, with product distributed nationally via a dedicated fleet of delivery trucks.
After starting out with the natural water range plus four typically South African flavours including marula and naartjie, aQuellé today bottles 13 flavoured variants and the natural range, each with its own customised, lightweighted bottle in sizes ranging from 330ml to five litres.
“We are always looking at ways to bring efficiencies into the plant and through those efficiencies reduce costs. Normally, companies bring out annual price increases – we’ve been able to keep our pricing steady for two to three years at a time just by bringing in efficiencies that don’t affect the quality of the product,” said Stegen.
“We do this because our aim is to keep on providing an affordable, value-for-money product offering for all. With aQuellé being ‘100% for people’, the company is firmly committed to uplifting the community and has the interests of people at heart.”
The brand has marked its 20th anniversary by sponsoring various needy, rural communities with – among other things – fresh water in Hippo rollers.
“Many of our communities still do not have access to running water and have to draw water from nearby rivers for their daily needs,” said Stegen.
“The Hippo roller makes light work of transporting a 90-litre drum filled with water, instead of carrying multiple buckets back and forth every day. Working with community representatives, we identified vulnerable individuals, such as the elderly, who could most benefit from these pieces of equipment.”
Through related activities, aQuellé is involved in a broad spectrum of community projects, including supporting an HIV/Aids care centre and a local feeding scheme for orphaned children.
“Our aim was to say thank you to our consumers and to encourage a culture of being thankful,” said Stegen.
This was carried through with a special “thank you” aQuellé product label in South Africa’s five most-spoken languages and a national radio and social media competition inviting consumers to share their personal, heartwarming stories about who they are thankful for and why.
The brand also provides fresh drinking water to the local community and is involved in various farming initiatives by assisting with equipment, materials and training of the local people in a wide range of farming skills.
Stegen said aQuellé looked forward to bringing more real joy to South Africans over the next 20 years.