Bottled Water Soaks Addis Abeba

On a hot, humid, sunny day in February, Binyam Girma, a 30-year-old house broker, was quenching his thirst by drinking from a one-litre bottle of water branded Aqua Safe in the shade of a kiosk around Kirkos. He drinks a minimum of two litres a day, always from a one-litre size bottle.

“I prefer this size as the half-litre one ends too fast, and the two-litre one is not comfortable to carry,” says Binyam.

The tidy little kiosk of Gizaw Kitabo, where Binyam is a customer, has dozens of different bottled waters, such as Aqua Safe, Aqua Addis, Arki, Classy and Fiker. They all come in various sizes, including the 20lt ones that Abyssinia and Classy bottle.

“I carry the different brands to allow customers to have as many choices as possible,” Gizaw told Fortune.

Bottled water came to prominence with Highland Spring Water, produced by the Appex Bottling Company, established by Ermias Amelga and partners. Although it has since disappeared, the brand name has become the generic term used to refer to bottled water as a whole.

Since then, a total of 67 brands, with mineral contents that vary with regard to the environment of their respective sources, were registered and obtained licenses. However, Harbele Trade Industry, which bottles Spa Drinking Water, was the first manufacturer to get an authenticated certificate in 2013.

“Nonetheless, bottlers can reduce the amount of mineral content through treatment,” said Sergut Wolde, certification director at the Ethiopian Conformity Assessment Enterprise (ECAE).

Consumers have become savvy to the products they use, Binyam, who is one of the consumers,checks the mineral content before buying bottled water.

“I prefer water with less sodium content,” he said.

The Food, Medicine & Health Care Administration & Control Authority (FMHACCA), the Ethiopian Conformity Assessment Enterprise (ECAE) and the Ethiopian Standards Agency (ESA) play an essential role in the pre and post-manufacturing of bottled water. The latter set a compulsory standard in 2013 that all bottlers must follow to become operational in Ethiopia.

The Authority is the one that gives the green light to start bottling and issues a Certificate of Manufacturing Competency (CMC). This is only after conducting evaluations on production inputs, such as infrastructural components, human resources, technological inputs and the production environment, according to Geremew Tassew, an inspector at the Authority.

Malpractices by some retailers are evident in that they do not protect the bottles from prolonged exposure to sunlight, according to Geremew.

“People have the right not to buy products from service providers that violate the directives indicated on the label of the bottles, such as keeping away from too much sunlight,” he told Fortune, adding that legal action will be taken against them.

Many Consumers are also knowledgeable about this, including Michael Nigatu, a staff at the American Embassy. He likes Arki, which is bottled by SBG Plc and was established three years ago, for its smooth taste, but never buys it from such retailers.

To establish a bottled water manufacturing plant, other than the usual process of having to get the land and acquiring an investment license, one must install machinery according to the minimum requirements of Ethiopian standards.

The Enterprise, which was established eight years ago, provides the inspection, laboratory testing and certification services. The Enterprise’s services cost the companies from 40,000 Br to 50,000 Br. The product must fulfil 54 parameters set as a standard during the laboratory test at the Enterprise.

“All the tests are carried out in Ethiopia,” said Gashaw Tesfaye, deputy director-general of the Enterprise,“except one that tests against pesticides that could be found in areas where the waters are sourced since there is a shortage of laboratory equipment and skilled human power.”

The certificate by the Enterprise must be renewed every year, and a new one is issued after half a decade. The enterprise also conducts unannounced factory visits to check the performance of the factories by taking samples from the main checkpoints of the production line. It even takes a sample of the product from the market to test it in its laboratory. The same holds true for the Authority.

There were only 29 companies with a product certificate three years ago. This number had doubled by December last year. Since then, there have been five new entrants into the market.

“I switched to bottled water five years ago after falling seriously ill with a sickness I contracted as a result of tap water,” says Binyam.

But retailers, such as Alemu Bedawi, have doubts that all customers are as curious about the contents.

“Not many people check the labels on the bottles,” he says at his kiosk. “They just take whatever we give them and go.”

His profit for every bottle that is sold, regardless of size, is two Birr. As a salesperson, he does not find any brand selling faster or slower than others.

“I buy any brand of water whenever I run out of stock and have no problem getting it to customers,” Alemu, who currently only had Hiwot Bottled Water, manufactured by Bahru Abreham Industry, told Fortune.

One of the brands that entered the market since last December was Hagere Purified Water, extracted from groundwater and produced by Kayshelo Business Centre Plc in the Oromia Regional State. Another was Fiker Natural Spring Water, produced by OK Bottling & Beverage SC from the natural springs found in the mountains in the Gurague zone.

The other three that have joined these are Delta, produced by Nehe Beverage Complex Plc, Care, by Altweba Trading Plc, and Daily Water, by Belima International Business Plc.

Both Hagere and Feker, whose manufacturers face challenges due to electricity shortages, are produced in the bottle size of 0.6lt, in addition to the usual sizes. This is to gain market advantage, for people are usually inclined to pay an additional amount for something new, according to the managers of the companies.

“Using a reduced Sodium content has also helped in attracting customers to us, according to the survey by our sales personnel,” said Tinsae Zeleke, manager at Kayshelo. “Our focus, for the time being, are consumers in the capital.”

It is not different for Fiker.

“With the current 75pc production capacity, most of the product is delivered to Addis Abeba, while the remaining is distributed to other regions,” said Tesfaye Gebrehiwot, manager at OK.

Binyam, one of the target consumers, starts his day drinking half a litre of water from his 20lt Abyssinia jar that he bought for 40 Br.

“It is economical and also environmentally beneficial to decrease the number of bottles used,” he said.

Majid Mohiuddin (PhD), researcher and lecturer at Addis Abeba University’s Centre of Environmental Sciences for 15 years, believes, however, that using less plastic bottles would still have significant effects.

“Plastic can take up to a decade to degrade,” he said. “The only alternatives are to switch to biodegradable products or recycling.”






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