L’eau and behold

Voss, the artesian water from Norway, is openly exclusive and expensive. Originally the pipedream of two young entrepreneurs, the brand is now at its pinnacle with the announcement of its new UAE distributor as orders pour in

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By  Lynne Nolan Published  May 1, 2006

|~|vossbody1.jpg|~|Hotel and restaurant managers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of stocking ultra premium water, according to Olav Roeyset, president of international markets, Voss. |~|Voss, the artesian water from Norway, is openly exclusive and expensive. Originally the pipedream of two young entrepreneurs, the brand is now at its pinnacle with the announcement of its new UAE distributor as orders pour in Present in Dubai for the last two years, with clients including Burj Al-Arab and Emirates Towers, Voss is now re-launching and has partnered with Emirates Fine Wine (EFW), a subsidiary of MMI, specialising in fine wines and champagne. Despite the company, often mistaken for a Danish product, being forced to keep a low profile earlier this year during the cartoon controversy, Olav Roeyset, president of international markets, is confident about its future business. He is already making good on his mantra, “good meal, good wine, good water,” as Voss eyes supply contracts for high-end outlets in the UAE and joint ventures with food and high-quality wine specialists. Distribution is already planned for Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The company has proved a hit in the US, chiefly New York and Miami. London is the next biggest market, accounting for 80% of the UK volume. Diners are sipping it at venues like The Sanderson, Blue Elephants, Zuma and The Trafalgar. There has been a significant growth in sales in countries such as Greece, France and Spain despite competition from strong national companies. “As a five-star product, we see [the Middle East] as our biggest growth market, particularly Dubai, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, as the concentration of that ranking here is so extreme. The latter market is expected to have a greater demand for home use. Most of our customers have worked in international hotel properties. They have high standards and high expectations,” Roeyset commented. “The stylish packaging and high-quality pure taste of Voss makes it the ideal partner for fine wine consumption. We are proud and excited to handle such a great product as this,” remarks Alasdair Lawson-Dick, general manager, Emirates Fine Wine. Voss’ highly selective distribution has made it easier for them to control the outlets. As Voss expands into international markets, the company’s production and distribution infrastructure have been boosted. A new bottling line was launched at the close of last year to meet capacity demands. The brand has also launched its new half-litre silver-stripe PET range of plastic bottles, targeting exercise rooms and pool bars. However, Roeyset is adamant this is a different version, rather than designed to be a cheaper alternative. Voss has a strong celebrity customer base. Madonna reportedly refused to check into a hotel because they did not serve it and it is used at the Oscars ceremony. However, despite competing with international giant corporations with big marketing budgets, the company has not partaken in any advertising, sponsorship or product placement strategies. Rather, Voss credits its success to word of mouth testimonials and its elitism. Established in 1998, Voss is the brainchild of Ole Sandberg and Christopher Sarlem, who wanted to share the artesian sources of their homeland with the world. The pair spent two years researching potential markets and travelling around the world, eventually finding an artesian source with high standards in the middle of the pollution-free wilderness of Southern Norway. Roeyset says the employees who were there during the inception of the relatively new company would recall it as being very hard work. Roeyset believes hotel and restaurant managers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of stocking ultra premium water. “We are doing events in conjunction with companies such as Moet and Rolls Royce. Voss hopes to reach out to both visitors and tourists alike, and to be found on yachts and private jets.” The company has doubled its turnover every year and anticipates a turnover in excess of US $50 million dollars this year. Voss water, which first went on sale in April 2000, has been triumphant as people see it and want to try it, Roeyset says. A lot of hotels now have water menus or sommeliers with knowledge of the best waters to decant, and Roeyset says it is a rational decision to use the product, as the hotel makes more money. Hotel clients can accumulate up to 15% of their total beverage sales with water, and in-room availability can boost annual profits by $500,000 at 1000-room properties. “The bottle is very striking but extremely neutral and non-intrusive, it is what drives Voss,” comments Roeyset. Neil Kraft, a former creative director to Calvin Klein, whose team presented hundreds of sketches until the unique look was conceived, designed the brand’s distinctive cylindrical bottle, in chic steel and glass. ||**|||~|vossbodytwo.jpg|~|The brand has launched its new half-litre silver-stripe PET range of plastic bottles, targeting exercise rooms and pool bars. |~|“People seem to enjoy the water so much, whether this is because of the design or quality, or both, that we often have guests asking where they can buy it, much like a wine. Many customers take the empty Voss bottles with them when they discover it not available in the shops so they can look for it after their stay. I have seen it with wine when working in Europe, but never with water,” says Dorlit Buth, assistant food & beverages manager, Le Meridien Mina Seyahi. Buth says she was attracted to using Voss as its stylish packaging adds in a subtle way to the atmosphere and to the enjoyment of an evening, whilst its price generates a great deal of additional revenue in the right outlets. As one of the purest waters in the world, it does not compete with or alter the flavour of the food or wine, Buth adds. Used regularly as an alternative to mixers for cocktails, single malts and cognac, it has emerged as the water of choice for many wine enthusiasts and chefs. Roeyset explains that Voss is one of the purest products because it is straight from the source, which is located in a small village, where the company is an important employer. “Voss is artesian water, not spring water. We drill down to an underground source so there is no pumping involved and the low mineral content means it does not change the taste of accompanying dishes.” Coming from a virgin acquifier that is protected by ice and rock, the water has never been exposed to air. Flowing from an artesian spring, this being the point where groundwater flows out of the ground and the acquifier meets the ground surface; Voss achieves its low levels of total dissolved solids, mineral content and clean taste. However, Roeyset won’t have you take his word for it. His most imperative testimonial to date comes from his three-year-old daughter, who awoke at night wanting a drink and he gave her tap water, to which she responded, “But Daddy, this is not Voss.” As the instantly recognisable bottle continues to appear in magazines with well-heeled celebrities like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, and the brand prepares to build up a thirst for its high-couture H²O in the top hotels and restaurants of the Middle East, Voss is hot property, it would seem. ||**||

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