How to Start a Bottled Water Business in Kenya

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Retailing bottled water is among the most low-capital businesses that one can start in Kenya.

There is so much flexibility in how to set up your bottled water business that makes it easy for entrepreneurs to jump on board.

That said, it is impossible to come across any busy street/highway without hawkers selling bottled water to pedestrians or motorists in Kenya.

Over the last decade, bottled water sales have gone up while those of carbonated soft drinks have gone down, making water the most successful commercial beverage.

Bottled-water business has been steered by the fact that nowadays people are more health-conscious. They are wary of tap water and cannot just source water anywhere.

Water is also a good alternative to alcohol and soft drinks as it is cheaper and more beneficial.

And there is variety to choose from.  There is spring water, mineral water, and distilled water. Some even go further on to flavor water or even sometimes carbonate the water.

Why Should You Get into the Bottled Water Business?

There are several reasons why people get into the bottled water business. The most common reason is to make profits

Other reasons may include: –

  • For the pride of owning a business
  • To grow your wealth
  • For self expression
  • To pursue your passion or more

To get started in this kind of business you will need to find a source of water then go on from there, with your only cost along the way being packaging, marketing, and distribution, but not production.

How to get started in the bottled water business 

You can get into the bottled water business as a ;

Retailer; They buy bottled water from wholesalers and stock them in their shops to sell to customers at a higher price.

Hawker: They sell on streets and busy corner with no formal establishment. It is very affordable to start hawking that’s why so many do it.

Wholesaler/Distributor: They get the product from manufacturers to distribute to retailers or stock in their shops at a slightly higher price.

Producers: They get the water from its source, treat it,  package and market.

How Much Capital Do I Need to Start a Bottled Water Business?

The largest of the initial investment usually goes to purchasing of the equipment. The machine may be manual, semi-automatic or fully automatic.

The price of the equipment varies depending on capacity and treatment technology.

Treatment equipment will be different in terms of pump type, flow rate, holding technology and the volume of water that can be purified at once. There are even domestic water treatment plants that some may use in households.

The bigger water pumps are more expensive.

Water pump for home use
Water pump for home use – KSh 645

On treatment technology, technology usually depends on the source and type of water.

Different technologies purify different kinds of waste. There are the evaporation and drying systems, oily water systems, bio purification systems, etc. They are so many and it all depends on their effectiveness in the kind of water you want.

The type of equipment you need to start your bottled water business depends on the market and funding you have.

If you have a larger market and hence high demand then that means you will need to produce larger volumes daily.

Consequently, that means you need high-capacity equipment.

While starting you will not need high-capacity equipment, but in the case that you project high sales,just get high-capacity equipment from equipment wholesalers.

Also, consider the equipment that’s easy to use and does not need expertise.

Davis and Shirtliff, PureFlow, Atlas Kenya and DavChem are some of the more popular companies that sell water treatment equipment.

Other costs you have to consider are rent, renovation, packaging, marketing, and distribution.

Testing Water Quality in Kenya

It is important to test the water before and after treatment. Before treatment, you test the source of water to determine what kind of treatment process the water should undergo. It also helps you know the kind of equipment you need to treat the water.

After treatment, you test the water to determine if it is fit for consumption.

There is a lot of mistrust for bottled water and you do not want to be part of the group that advances this notion by providing substandard products

Testing costs between 700 to 5000 shillings and there are a couple of quality organizations you can test from, the most obvious being KEBS.

KEBS certifies your products too so it is advisable to use them.

Other companies that test water include;

  • AgriQ-Quest Kenya at Plessey House, Baricho Road.
  • Nairobi Water Conservation and Pipeline Corporation at Dunga Road, Industrial Area
  • SGS Kenya-Victoria Towers, Upper Hill

There are different kinds of tests done all testing for different elements. The contaminants mostly tested for include;

  • Microbes
  • Suspended solids
  • Salinity
  • Industrial contaminants
  • Naturally-occurring trace contaminants such as Fluoride

Commercial Water Treatment Equipment 

There are several ways to treat water. For ultimate results, most times, these methods are combined to ensure water is safe to drink.

Filtration

This is the most common and basic and we do it even in our own homes. It is always important to include this method before any other kind of treatment.

It takes care of all suspended solids and sediments found in water. Go for particle filter with small pores. Physical filtration however, does not take care of salinity or trace contaminants.

You may also use carbon filters as activated carbon filters industrial and agricultural elements.

Home water filters in Kenya
Home water filtration systems for KSh 1,557 – Buy Now

Ultraviolet radiation

UV strictly treats pathogenic microbes so it can only be used in combination with other methods.

It costs KES – 50,000 to 350,000, with a cost of 0.38 shillings per liter.

Reverse Osmosis Membrane filtration

It uses pressure to push water through extremely small pores. Reverse Osmosis effectively treats from microbes, chemical and mineral contaminants.

It costs between KES – 350,000 to 700,0000 shillings to buy equipment for it. The operating cost is 0.43 to 2.08 shillings per liter. You have to replace the membranes over time too.

Challenges You Are Likely to Face in Bottled Water Business

There has been a lot of controversy on the issue of selling bottled water. The main argument is about pollution. Bottled water easily leads to accumulating plastic waste, which is very easy seeing as how water is the most common drink and definitely, the fastest moving in the market.

Again, the plastic used though BPA free still has some hazardous chemicals that find their way into the water when it comes into contact with heat or is used to hold water for a long time.

Some even argue that plastic bottled should be banned altogether.

The safety of the water is not guaranteed and could just be tap water. This makes it difficult for unrecognized brands to grow because of the inability to trace the quality of the water.

Also, it’s difficult to tell, if some of the branding on the bottles is fake. This means that for those selling bottled water on streets they face discrimination when it comes to product genuineness.

Some go ahead to fake Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) certification.

Some also put up a face to get certification and do not carry on with the standards they began with. This results in a decline in the quality of water being sold out there.

The policies against the production of bottled water may not be put in place for a long time. However, the perception created by those against the selling of bottled water will hold in the mind of consumers. With education on health risks like Cancer and contamination increasing, Kenyans are bound to respond.

Competition and Survival

Competition in bottled water business

As it is, there are already about 600 bottled water companies in Kenya, only counting the registered companies.

That just goes to show you how profitable yet crowded the business is. Getting yourself out there, to a shelf is not an easy task.

There are barely any barriers to the business as water purification and packaging companies have increased. The process of water purification is also not a straight one. There are various ways of treating the water as compared to before.

Water treatment machinery is also more easily accessible than earlier. They have circulated in the market and there is even second-hand machinery in the business today.

Out of the 600 companies, 5 companies are dominating the bottled water business and that is Keringet, Highlands, Aquamist, Quencher, and Dasani.

Keringet, one of the most popular has been able to stay relevant because it started earlier, in 1992, so it was able to grow its name before other brands like Dasani came in.

Competition in the bottled water industry is majorly based on price, cost, leadership, location, marketing, and distribution.

Current Trends in The Bottled Water Business

Today, companies with bottled water are committed to using environment-friendly procedures. They work to reduce waste that come from their production and distribution and even re-use and recycle waste.

Several companies are also abandoning the traditional plastic bottles for thinner packs. Sachet water has grown very popular in some countries too.

Bottled water is now being sold for more than the on-the-go process. People have lost trust in treating their own tap water. Therefore, they buy bottled water in 15l and 20 L bottled to store or use on their own water dispensers.

The bottled water industry has boomed so greatly that it has given rise to other businesses like selling of new and second-hand dispenser bottles, recycling and reclaiming of plastic.

There are also a couple of art projects that have used plastic bottles as the driving idea and main material.

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