Why Water (Competitions) Matter: The Boost from Berkeley Springs

whyenterIt’s no surprise that the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting, held every February in the small hamlet of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, packs a mighty punch, after all winning a gold medal here for your bottled water can help boost sales, provide media coverage, and give you bragging rights for having some of the best water in the world. What is surprising however is how few bottlers are actually involved in the competition. Bottled waters, carbonated, purified, municipal and spring waters compete in their respective categories for gold, silver and bronze medals. Certainly some may see water judging as irrelevant to their distribution or sales rates and in some cases a medal does not translate to direct sales increase. But the event, having just passed its 22nd year, garners plenty of media coverage as well. Local, regional and national media, including USA Today, CNN, Time Magazine, and in 2012 CBS This Morning, have covered the event and participating here can have impressive consequences. In fact, even stalwarts like Perrier and Nestle Pure Life entered their water in 2012, a sign that even the big bottlers value a win at Berkeley Springs. And every year the competition heats up from non-North American waters, like Brazil, Bosnia, Macedonia, Germany, France, Switzerland, North Korea and even China. Small, medium-sized and large bottlers can benefit from the competition and it behooves any bottler to consider entering.

But what exactly can the competition provide should you enter and win a bronze, silver or gold medal? The fact is that bottled water is a tough market and most bottlers only net pennies per bottle. But where else can a bottler find such an inexpensive means to promote their water? Trade shows and special events either cost too much for a booth, or you are giving away a lot of water in the hopes of building brand loyalty. Advertising, be that print, on-line and radio is not an inexpensive proposition, and frankly how do you convince a fickle public to even buy your water? Well, it helps to have bragging rights: and media from Berkeley Springs can help accomplish this.

“As a result of our first place finish at the competition (2012) followed by numerous press releases by media sources, the activity has been outstanding,” Chris Garrick, President of Jackson Springs Natural Premium Spring Water in Winnipeg, Manitoba tells Bottled Water Web. “In Canada, it was on the front page of all our national newspapers as well headline news on numerous radio and television stations acknowledging our accomplishment. We also were interviewed on TV,” he adds. “We have had numerous inquiries from around the world including China, USA, Europe, Kuwait and throughout Canada. We have had interest from consumers, distributors, wholesalers and even from a company that wanted to acquire our entire operation!” Garrick has also seen an increase in additional distribution. “Our distributors throughout Manitoba are also noticing an increase in business as a result of the award and numerous distributor inquiries throughout our province have been received,” he says. “It is too early to give an exact percentage of growth at this time but we do know that it will be significant as a result of the award.” But the award has also helped his customer base share their own satisfaction of the water through an incredibly valuable outlet: word of mouth. “We have notified all of our customers by email, telephone or by handouts attached to their invoices. About fifty percent had already heard of the award that we won through the media. As a result, our customers are celebrating and spreading the news to their family, friends and co-workers that they are drinking the ‘Best Tasting Water In The World.’ They share our pride.”

Michael Billinghurst, President of Muskoka Springs Inc. in Ontario, Canada has won gold medals at Berkeley Springs in 2007 and 2011; silver in 2002 and 2006, and bronze in 2004. ?The first couple of wins you think its just good luck but as you win more you realize its good tasting water,? he says. “It definitely helps brand recognition.” The water industry is suffering from a variety of problems, the biggest one being price he suggests. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see how much money the industry is making when you go and buy 24x500ml bottles of water at the store for $2.50 a case. Most people buy water when it’s on sale and don’t care that much about the brand; they are more interested in the price,” Billinghurst adds. Hence the reasoning to keep his brand strong using the water competition to show customers that award winning water is worth the extra price. “The 2007 gold award brought us together with a company out of New York who won gold for best packaging the same year. For about three years we were packaging their product here and literally shipping world wide,” he notes. “I believe the biggest perk from winning an award at Berkeley Springs is the bragging rights.”

Nathan Pence is co-owner and sales manager for Virginia’s Best Natural Artesian Water and the waters? silver medal win in 2012 meant that sales increased by 10 percent. “We enter every year, and we also got a bronze in 2006 – so you know it wasn’t a fluke,” he says. And then there is the prestige factor for Pence. “This is a chance for everyone to know how good our water really is other than trying to convince them will the old fashioned sales pitch.” And whereas sales pitches can certainly be effective, winning a competition like Berkeley Springs validates your water since it is judged from non-partial outside sources, as Simon Woolley, the Founder of Antipodes in New Zealand found out. Antipodes won gold in 2006, and snagged a silver medal in 2012 for bottled sparkling water. “We cherish the accolades from Berkley Springs,” Woolley told Bottled Water Web. “As a very small company with a relatively low marketing budget it is great to have a third party endorsement from an un-commercial driven body,” he mentions.

“We love going to the Berkeley Springs Water Tasting Competition,” says Toni Sappingfield, co-owner of Almost Heaven Spring Water based in West Virginia. “Getting to know other people in the business increases our knowledge of the latest innovations and products. We have been going for several years and consistently finish in the top five,” Sappingfield notes. “We don’t have any sales figures that show a direct correlation between sales and winning, but the feedback from our customers increases every year. Plus we have the satisfaction of providing our clientele with a premium drinking water.”

For these reasons alone it might be worth considering entering your water in the up coming competition. Not only might you win a gold medal, get coverage by the press and perhaps see a boost in sales, but you will be part of promoting the single best beverage on earth. We can all drink to that! For additional information on the competition, including a list of medal winners and how to enter, check out: http://www.berkeleysprings.com/water/about.htm. Perhaps you water will be the next one to score a gold medal and be called, “the best tasting water in the world.”

By Michael Cervin, Senior Editor

Photo caption: Jill Klein Rone (Festival Producer), James M. Stevens, (Lifetime Achievement Award winner, 2012) and Arthur von Wiesenberger, (Watermaster).