With consumers increasingly turning away from single-use plastic, operators must be innovative when it comes to their water offering. Anne Bruce examines some of the options currently on the market
It was only this time last year that David Attenborough's Blue Planet II debuted on the BBC. Its footage of oceans awash with plastic and seabirds dying with stomachs full of the stuff led to a backlash against single-use plastic products that has since continued to play out across the world.
In the hospitality sector, with consumers more conscious of the environmental impact of bottled water waste and more aware of the health benefits of drinking water, operators are turning their thoughts to offering filtered water as part of the drinks range.
Of course, a filtration system can offer your customers consistent chilled drinking water, both still and sparkling, on demand and enables you to reduce waste by eliminating single-use, bought-in plastic bottles. But alongside the environmental concerns of plastic bottles, a key consideration for operators will be whether it is possible to make the numbers add up when opting for filtered water systems.
Money, money, money
Paul Proctor, managing director of EcoPure Waters, says that there are many strong financial arguments as to why caterers should invest in mains water filtration.
Many operators are reluctant to switch to in-house filtration as bottled mineral water from a spring offers a nice margin. But filtered water can save money, as consumers have grown accustomed to paying for bottled water, both still and sparkling. Proctor explains: "Customers will be happy to pay for the water, because they understand that there is a cost to providing the service."
EcoPure Waters' filtration system offers a portion-control facility which allows the fast and accurate filling of bottles, saving energy and labour time. Standalone systems are available starting at under £20 per week - the equivalent cost of a few bottles of bought-in water.
er Smeaton, director of Moor H2O, the sole distributor of the Nordaq filtered water system in the UK, comments that premium filtered water is the future. The most prevalent reasons for a switch to filtered water are cost, logistics and the eco-concern, he suggests.
"Single-use plastics have become a hot topic in recent times. Then there's the miles this water has travelled to reach the dinner table, to be considered, as many premium waters are shipped from countries far from the UK." Bottled water also places a significant logistical burden upon restaurants that must order in and dispose of a large number of bottles, he argues. Proctor adds that with water filtration systems, the waste associated with over-ordering or out-of-date stock is completely avoided.
Lenton comments that the inclusion of premium filtered water at an establishment is now increasingly expected. "We are seeing a marked interest from operators wanting to invest in new and innovative ways to shake up their water offering so it appeals to paying customers."
In a recent survey Eau de Vie carried out earlier this year at the Hotelympia trade show, 96% of visitors surveyed said that they thought the hospitality industry should be doing more to tackle the presentation of table water and in particular the single-use plastic bottle crisis.
Brita recently conducted research with Keep Britain Tidy in 2017, which found that offering free water has a very positive halo effect on the business, driving customer loyalty. Some 64% of consumers would be more likely to return to a venue if they could refill their water bottle. In addition, 62% said they would choose a business that offered free refills over a competitor, and 73% would view a business more favourably if it gave free tap or filtered water on request.
tching to a filtered water system not only helps to boost an operator's sustainability credentials, but when coupled with the use of personalised recyclable glass bottles, provides them with the opportunity to package up their water offering as a signature 'premium' service worth paying for, Lenton argues. Serving filtered water in your own-brand bottles keeps your name and logo on the table right in front of your customers at all times. "It's a marketing opportunity and a fantastic way to put a personal stamp on a product and a sustainable initiative of which operators can be proud," he adds.
Suppliers like Artis specialise in providing an in-house branding and personalisation service, for items which can be used time and time again. Its collections include modern and classic carafes, jugs and re-usable bottles with caps, lids or swing caps.
Filtered from the mains, Eau de Vie water is delivered from the tap at the selected chilled temperature and levels of sparkle can be customised by the operator, offering further levels of personalisation. Customers can also use the system's water as the basis to create their own 'personally branded' soft drinks, offering a range of cordial flavours.
Making the switch
With items such as bottled water seen as an integral part of day-to-day service and profit margins, there is some hesitance to switch to sustainable alternatives within the hospitality industry, comments Sarah Taylor, managing director of Brita UK.
Smeaton agrees, and adds that the movement to filtered water is a trend to which the restaurant industry is only recently starting to wake up. Russell Owens, marketing director at Zip Water UK, explains that although it is still early days, developments are occurring: "Mains-fed delivery systems are becoming popular, as businesses see the benefit in taking more control over their drinking water."
With single-use plastic public enemy number one, the benefits of serving your own filtered water in a personalised glass bottle are myriad: sustainable, cost-effective and a device in which to reinforce your brand. The next question is what recycling schemes are in place for the used water filters themselves, but that is hopefully not something that would be subject to a David Attenborough documentary.
How filtered water systems are helping to reduce the CO2 footprint This summer, InterContinental Hotels Group have started introducing EcoPure Waters' filtered water systems.
Some 25 of its hotels across the UK and Ireland - including Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn locations - had already trailed EcoPure Waters' systems and seen immediate cost benefits, says Karan Khanna, managing director of UK operations at IHG.
Since the trial, further hotels have adopted the system, including Holiday Inn (Belfast, Corby and Whitechapel) and Crown Plaza (Newcastle and Heathrow Terminal 4), as well as the IHG Head Office (Denham). EcoPure Waters' usage data from the first 27 hotels indicates that, on average, each hotel is filling around 1,400 750ml bottles a month in meeting and catering areas. Bedroom use is under review and is likely to be included in phase two of a roll out.
A typical Crowne Plaza hotel can reduce its CO2 footprint by more than one ton a year when filtered water is introduced into its meeting rooms, according to estimates.
Some IHG locations are charging for the water, however, the focus is waste reduction and attracting new responsible business customers, rather than driving revenues and reducing costs. Individuals and meeting organisers will increasingly book hotels that are working to reduce their environmental impact, says IHG.
Most IHG-branded hotels are owned and run by third-party individuals or groups, so IHG can only encourage these to use EcoPure Waters' filtration systems.
Zip Water UKwww.zipcommercial.co.uk