Returning to the source


While the human body is made up of over 50 percent water, most of us have little, if any, specific preferences when it comes to the drinking water we consume. This may be due, in part, to the fact that many consumers can’t tell the difference between one variety of water and another. As a result, and depending on the context, purchases by the general public are usually driven by price in relation to quantity, planned use and the selection of products available


That reality, however, has been gradually changing, due to a broad range of factors, chief among which is growing health awareness, lifestyle and an ever-expanding hotel and F&B scene. Consequently, manufacturers of bottled water are promoting new ranges of products aimed at satisfying these shifts in demand. At the same time, and in line with broad-based bids to add value, the global F&B industry has moved to implement various strategies aimed at distinguishing the dining experiences offered to their customers.

Creating a niche market
According to Allied Market Research, the global bottled water market was valued at USD 169.8 billion in 2015 and is expected to rise to USD 319.9 billion by 2020. Growth has been particularly strong in the GCC markets, as evidenced by the 1500 different water brands registered with the Dubai Municipality in 2011, according to reports. The crowded market has proved to be especially taxing for premium-branded waters operating in the Middle East region and, though the challenges facing the F&B industry are clear, the best strategies remain elusive.
Some F&B managers are paying closer attention to the brands of water they give their guests, thereby focusing less on higher profit margins and more on quality of the experience. Other hospitality outlets are offering their guests rare bottled water brands that are unavailable in the retail market, creating a niche for themselves by adopting a strategy based on brand exclusivity. Despite these approaches, however, the biggest barrier to growing this kind of offering stems from the need for a different kind of education that few seem to have.

Insight from a global authority
To shed further light on that matter, HN spoke to

Martin Riese, the US’s only water sommelier and a global authority on the subject.
Riese currently holds the position of general manager at Patina, an award-winning, Michelin-starred restaurant, located in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles, serving contemporary French cuisine with international influences.
In 2013, he became the first professional in the world to offer a water menu at a restaurant.Riese believes the biggest challenge in the water market is that consumers remain under-informed about the different qualities of water available. “Consumers are confused when it comes to the question of the source of water,” he said. “What is purified, what is spring, what is mineral water?”
That reality, however, hasn’t stopped a small number of fine-dining restaurants and five-star hotels from offering water menus, a novelty they hoped their guests would find fascinating.An advocate of this concept, Riese pointed out that making options available to customers has long been a practice in the restaurant business. “There are wine menus, selections of beers and liquors, so why shouldn’t I offer guests a water menu?” he asked.Though the implementation of such a strategy can seem daunting, Riese explained that introducing a water menu lends the restaurant several key benefits. Firstly, he pointed out, “When you offer your guests a variety of non-alcoholic beverages, they will be tempted to try something new instead of asking for tap water right away.”
Such offerings, Riese added, raise the restaurant’s return on investment (ROI) and add more value to the total dining experience. “In all the restaurants where we implemented a water menu, water sales rose between 100-350 percent,” he said. “The water menu is not just a fun idea, it is an extremely important revenue center now for restaurants.”

 Riese explained that while the prices of the water on the menu range from USD 5-20, the high-end varieties are proving popular. “We actually now sell water in the price range of USD 12-20 all the time,” he noted. “You can definitely build your guest average with the water menu.”
Gradually, it seems, diners who are exposed to these offerings develop a soft spot for water. Riese is convinced that it’s an investment.
“My message is always the same; give water value and honor water,” he said. “People will start to understand the importance of water and recognize that it’s way more than just a side beverage.”
In an attempt to expand its market share by drawing on this trend, Nestlé, which produces a whopping 50 brands of bottled water, has created a sommelier education scheme for regional F&B operators, as well as a water codex, comprising three books dedicated to empowering the F&B community.It has also been reported that a number of companies are taking matters a step further by investing in water sommelier education. However, some experts believe that this approach needs to be adopted throughout the entire region to be effective. One solution, some say, would be to have F&B operators and bottled water suppliers join forces to create and introduce plausible strategies to unlock the market’s potential, while also educating people.
At present, the learning curve remains steep. However, experts are confident that just as consumers began making distinctions between Australian and Brazilian beef, they will also start developing preferences when it comes to water.
Riese sees the trend as a natural industry progression. “The trend in food is for health and farm-to-table concepts,” he concluded. “You want to know where your food is coming from. The same will happen with water. People will start to ask questions about the source of the water they’re being offered and, in the future, will demand water from untouched, naturally-occurring sources. I therefore envision major success in glacial, spring and mineral waters.”
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