Nestlé, Water Watchers clash on shipping, employment details

WELLINGTON COUNTY  – Comments from a local water bottler and lobbyist group may only muddy the water when it comes to shipping and employment details at the company.

Nestlé Waters Canada had hoped to provide clarity on the issues, but Wellington Water Watchers (WWW) has accused the company of “playing games.”

Over the years, the Advertiser has heard from several Wellington residents who say Nestlé Waters products originating from Puslinch and Erin are being sold internationally.

WWW chair Rob Case says the group has been part of campaigns in which residents say they’ve seen local water for sale in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

However, Nestlé Waters corporate affairs director Jennifer Kerr said “75 per cent” of the water extracted from wells in Aberfoyle and Hillsburgh stays in Ontario.

The majority of the remaining 25% is shipped to Quebec, with a “very small” amount making it to the Maritimes, she added.

“Nothing leaves the country and it barely leaves the province,” she said.

Kerr explained the legal definition of “spring water” varies across the globe, so the company doesn’t ship its products elsewhere – even to the U.S.

“Plus, it doesn’t make sense,” she said. “Nestlé Waters has factories all over the world.”

Case suggests distributers who purchase local Nestlé Waters products may be the ones shipping it internationally.

“Despite Nestlé’s best efforts … the water is definitely getting far beyond Ontario,” said Case.

Kerr emphatically dismissed claims relayed to the Advertiser about Nestlé-owned Perrier products with “Guelph” labels spotted in Asia.

She explained the Perrier and Sanpellegrino brands are sourced solely in France and Italy, respectively.

Only non-carbonated products are sourced in Aberfoyle and Hillsburgh, including both plain and flavoured water, Kerr added.

Case says that given the “unknowns” surrounding climate change and population growth in Wellington County, shipping local water even to Quebec is concerning.

“Water is still being removed from the local water systems,” he said.

Employment figures

Kerr said there is no truth to the recent WWW claim that Nestlé Waters is trying to “misrepresent” its local employment figures.

An Oct. 24 letter to the editor from WWW suggested Nestlé couldn’t be trusted to be truthful about its impact on local aquifers if it was willing to incorrectly claim, in a July 18 ad in the Advertiser, that it is the county’s largest employer.

The ad was simply a mistake, as noted in a Sept. 19 correction in the newspaper, said Kerr, who penned a letter to the same effect in last week’s Advertiser.

Kerr said Nestlé Waters currently has 250 employees total in Canada.

Of those, 145 work at the company’s Aberfoyle plant. That would rank the company outside the top 25 largest employers in Wellington County.

Previously Nestlé’s figures were 400 nationally and 300 at Aberfoyle, but the company laid off a portion of its workforce last November in response to what Kerr at the time called a number of “business challenges.”

Kerr also noted Nestlé Waters’ employment numbers can fluctuate seasonally by about 20%.

Case has suggested the incorrect newspaper ad was not a simple error by Nestlé.

“They’ve always been cagey on their job numbers,” he said. “I think they’re playing games.”

Case said he believes the company has exaggerated the size of its workforce because jobs are the “only value” the company brings to local communities.