Ice River Springs
Since 1995, Ice River Springs (IRS) has been dedicated to providing consumers with high-quality natural spring water. Established by Jamie and Sandy Gott, the business has grown from a small bottling facility on the family farm to an international operation serving markets all over North America.
Today, IRS has 10 bottling facilities with four in Canada and six in the United States. The business employs approximately 500 people between these facilities.
Each facility supports a specific region, boosting efficiency and reducing the cost and environmental impact of transportation. IRS sells product directly to major grocery chains under private label brands.
“We have really been able to prove our supply chain abilities,” explains Ryan L’Abbe, vice president and general manager of the company’s Blue Mountain Plastics division. Even more so than this local production strategy, IRS is one of the only water companies in the world to produce its own 100 percent recycled bottles from self-manufactured resin.
Enough is enough
“We have our own recycling facility north of Toronto that produces food-grade recycled resin [RPET], which we manufacture into bottles in our plants,” L’Abbe explains. “We are the only beverage company in North America to do closed-loop recycling and produce 100 percent recycled bottles. We believe there is already enough plastic in the world today; we just need to find ways to re-use it. In the U.S. market, we should be reusing plastics more.”
L’Abbe believes that the reason this method has not caught on as quickly with the neighbors to the South is that people dislike paying for recycling services in parts of the U.S.
“Mandatory recycling collection services are common in cities but rural areas face challenges,” he elaborates. “Some states and provinces have deposits assigned and these areas see more recycling. Reprocessing plastics into new bottles has enormous benefits for the environment. If you look at the profile on energy savings on recycling it’s 84 percent on energy and 74 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. That could make a huge impact on the environment. While many larger beverage brands offer a line or portion of their supply in recycled bottles, the scarce supply or rPET limits widespread distribution. As we are self-manufacturing, we control the inputs from start to finish and streamline the material to optimum performance in lightweight water bottles.”
Hydration is key
Beyond just the bottles, IRS’s main product is water. The company bottles and brands water mostly under private label. The business acquired the number three bottled water producer in Canada, Fern Brook, earlier this year. Another recent development for the business is a 15-liter 100 percent recycled green water bottle for coolers, an innovation that won the company a 2014 Dupont Packaging Innovation award.
Always focused on efficiency, the company is highly vertically integrated. IRS has its own truck fleet. “Our main bottling facility is in Feversham, Ontario, with eight bottling lines there. “We send many trucks of bottled water every day to Toronto and other distribution centers,” L’Abbe elaborates. “They are dropping off our product to our customers and then they pick up at the recycling centers and go to our Shelburne facility. In this 185,000-square-foot facility, the plastic is ground to flakes and sent back to Feversham where we purify the resin and turn it into preforms and bottles. The only thing we do not self-manufacture is the label and wrap around the case.”
A growing market
Taking on the challenge of environmental sustainability has been highly beneficial to the business, despite the difficulties. “In everything we do, we have a passion for good health and preserving the Earth,” Jamie Gott, president and CEO. “Environmental critics have targeted bottled water in the past. We have stepped up our capabilities and we now have the ability to recycle almost all the plastic in our home province, creating a solution for many beverage companies as bottled water makes up less than 8 percent of the bottles we recycle.” The business has proven key in processing recycled plastic inside Canada. IRS tackles the environmental threat and makes it an asset.
Looking ahead, Gott sees the company on a positive trend of growth. IRS has established a strategic plan for expansion within U.S. markets and is working to promote the environmental aspect of the company’s water products.
“We tend to locate in local rural areas where we can become a big employer,” Gott continues. “It really helps us in terms of building our workforce and we find that work ethic is excellent in rural communities. As in many manufacturing operations, we do have issues finding trades people, but to counter that we have apprentices at many of our locations and provide training for our specialized high speed equipment.”
IRS seems to have struck a perfect balance. While bottled water in and of itself is not necessarily an innovative business, the team is reinventing the way consumers purchase this staple. In the coming years, Gott and the IRS team are looking to continue innovating. Breaking into new markets, Ice River Springs is dedicated to promoting environmentally-friendly practices.