Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Strauss, the Israeli food and beverage firm, on Wednesday announced a joint venture to sell home water-purification systems. The venture, called Virgin Strauss Water, will offer countertop units in the U.K.
It's the latest in a growing series of corporate water initiatives. Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) has improved its water-use ratio by 16 percent since 2004 and estimates that nearly 55 billion liters of water – or about 35 percent of the water used in the company’s finished beverages -- have been “replenished to communities and nature” through local water projects, according to its Water Stewardship Progress report.
PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP) has set a goal to reduce its water consumption by 20 percent per product by 2015 and already has improved its water-use efficiency by more than 15 percent from 2006. And Anheuser-Busch (NYSE: BUD) recently reported that its 12 U.S. breweries “have reduced water use by 34 percent over the past three years, which has helped achieve a combined 3.60 hectoliters of water for each hectoliter [26.4 U.S. gallons] of production in 2010.” Claiming that the average shave uses 3 to 5 gallons of water, the company is also encouraging its employees not to shave for the two weeks leading up to World Environment Day on June 5.
Aside from protecting the environment, of course, many of those initiatives are aimed at protecting water-dependent companies amid growing global water scarcity. In contrast, Virgin Strauss Water's purification systems are aimed at consumers.
About 40 percent of U.K. homes use bottled water or drip-style water filtration pitchers for drinking, rather than standard tap water, according to the press release. That represents a market of around 10 million households. The new Virgin Pure units will be connected directly into a home’s water lines. “Pure, chilled and boiling drinking water at the touch of a button means no more lugging bottles home, waiting for filter jugs to trickle through or kettles to boil for that great cup of tea,” Branson said.
But these new units aren’t cheap. They’re priced at £299 and £379 (about $465 and $590, respectively). Those costs also cover a full guarantee for the replacement of filters and UV lamps, as well as online and telephone support.
Strauss Water – part of the Strauss Group -- is a major developer and investor in water-purification technology and, according to its website, has “developed proprietary systems for 10 patents in the fields of water treatment and purification.” Along with its operations in Israel and the U.K., the company is also in China under the Haier Strauss Water brand, a partnership with the Chinese consumer electronics and appliance giant.
Consumer water filtration is a multibillion-dollar industry. An estimated 40 percent of Americans use a home water treatment unit – from simple drip filter pitchers to costly reverse osmosis systems. And despite the recession and negative publicity, sales of bottled water hit a record high of 9.1 billion gallons last year.