WELLINGTON COUNTY – Nestle Canada is getting out of the water bottling business.
On July 2 the company announced that it was selling its Nestlé Pure Life bottled water business to Ice River Springs.
“Nestlé, like all companies must continually evaluate all aspects of the business to ensure we optimize our operations and make ourselves competitive,” said Nestle Canada’s director of corporate affairs Jennifer Kerr in an email to the Advertiser. “We determined that we are best positioned to focus on our iconic international brands of San Pellegrino, Perrier and Acqua Panna.”
Nestle Canada is headquartered in North York and the company has other manufacturing facilities in Ontario; however, when asked if water would still be extracted from Canada for its international brands Kerr wrote “the international brands are all imported brands and not produced in Canada.”
One thing for sure is that if the sale goes through, Nestle is leaving Wellington County with the factory in Puslinch, well in Hillsburgh and Middlebrook well in Elora all included in the sale.
The sale of Nestle Pure Life to Ice River Springs is currently going through the regulatory review process and is expected to be complete by the third quarter of this year.
Local group Save Our Water says the sale of the Middlebrook Well doesn’t change its focus.
“The township said we are not a willing host community for commercial water bottling under any circumstances, so this is a circumstance that has changed but the goal has not changed, it’s still protecting the water,” said spokesperson Donna McCaw.
Centre Wellington Mayor Kelly Linton agreed.
“For Centre Wellington it doesn’t mean that much,” he said. “Our primary focus has always been on making sure that we look after the long term sustainability of our water sources here, so regardless of if Nestle owns the well or another company owns the well it doesn’t really change our position.
“Since day one that’s always been our concern, that we have a growing community, going to be about 50,000 people by 2041. We want to attract business here so having a good source of water is something that’s really critical to us.”
Nestle Canada also included the sale a factory in Hope, BC in the Nestle Pure Life deal.
In terms of employment Kerr said that all the Nestle Pure Life employees “will transition to the buyer upon completion of the sale.”
“We are pleased that Ice River Springs, a local Canadian company with a focus on sustainability, has agreed to purchase this business,” said Jeff Hamilton, president and CEO of Nestlé Canada in a press release.
Ice River Springs is a family-owned, private label bottled water producer for retailers and manufacturer of the Ice River Green brand of bottled water.
The company also runs a plastics recycling operation, BMP Recycling, that takes bottles and plastic food packaging collected by municipalities and produces food grade recycled PET plastic.
“This is a significant step in our strategic sustainability journey and with the addition of this iconic brand, their skilled and dedicated people across the country and the resources of this business, we will continue our commitment to sustainable bottled water, the circular economy and to hydrating Canadians,” said Sandy Gott, executive vice-president and co-owner of Ice River Springs in a press release.
Ice River Springs did not immediately respond to an email inquiry.
McCaw cautioned that Ice River Springs is not a “little mom and pop company, they are a big water bottler.”
While she said Save Our Water would be open to having a conversation with Ice River Springs, the goal is to protect water in Centre Wellington.
“Our goal remains the same and the community cannot afford to lose water from the aquifer when we need four new municipal wells,” she said. “So the actors change but the play remains the same.”
Linton said it could be good to have a fresh start with a new company.
“We haven’t really been able to develop a relationship with Nestle just because our council made it really clear that during the moratorium there was no direction to have any discussion or any negotiation with Nestle, so we really haven’t been talking,” he said.
“With the new company I haven’t met any of the owners or the management team … so obviously we’ll meet with them and we’ll have some discussions.”
However, he said his main focus is on protecting Centre Wellington’s water.
The Nestle Pure Life sale was announced just two weeks after Ontario released proposed changes to its water quality management program. One of those changes could give municipalities more say as to whether a water bottler is supported in the community.
However, Nestle Canada’s director of corporate affairs Jennifer Kerr said the company began looking at exploring the potential sale of Nestle Pure Life in late 2019, before these regulatory changes were announced.
“We were pleased to see the Ontario government proposed framework released for comment and input,” she said. “This step helps move us toward greater regulatory certainty which is important to all those who care about the sustainable management of water resources in Ontario.”
Nestle Canada is currently unable to draw any water from the Middlebrook well because the province put a moratorium on water bottling permits on Jan. 1, 2017 for two years. That moratorium was extended to Oct. 1.