10 Jul 2020 18:23 IST

Bisleri: Making big waves

Parle’s bottled water brand remains the most popular as it has reinvented itself many times over

As the world continues to reel under the Covid–19 pandemic, several companies in India have come forward to make life easier for those fighting the war at the forefront. Bisleri is one such company, providing safe packaged mineral water for free to hospitals and policemen, health care workers and those in other essential services across several States. This has proved to be a boon during the crisis that has required everyone to stay hydrated to be healthy.

‘Bisleri@Doorstep’ is a recent D2C initiative aimed to make the product easily available to consumers during the long lockdown. Customers can order directly from the website and get products delivered. Bisleri also reassures the customer about the safety of its products — there is zero physical contact during water purification and packaging. The plants and employees follow strict safety procedures.

The company has also installed ozone-based sanitation chambers for disinfection at the entrance of Seven Hills and Sion Hospital in Mumbai.

Origins

Italian entrepreneur Felice Bisleri created the company named after him and launched bottled water in Mumbai in 1965 for the first time. The product originated in Italy, from a spring called Angelica in the town Nocera Umbra. In 1969, the Parle Group bought the brand from him.

Difficult beginnings, first steps

In a country like India, which has struggled with the availability of potable drinking water even as it follows the culture of providing water for free to anyone who asks for it, introducing the concept of bottled-water-for-money proved difficult. The category had no market then, so Parle had to first create a market for pure water.

 

Thus Bisleri was launched initially as a soda, with two variants — carbonated and non-carbonated mineral water. The focus was kept on minerals that provided health. With just three retail outlets, two in Kolkata and one in Mumbai, which catered mainly to foreigners, the business took time to take off.

It was only when Indians started travelling abroad and post-globalisation that packaged drinking water came into its own in our country. But the product was heavy, bulky, and difficult to transport. Bisleri responded to these challenges by creating its own fleet of trucks for transportation, putting in place a strong and loyal distributor network. Recently, Bisleri purchased 200 Ashok Leyland Tempos for its distributors across the country.

Big breakthrough

The turning point came in the 1980s, when the packaging was changed, first to PVC and then PET bottles. For the first time, the company could show the consumer the transparency and purity of mineral water. In 1995, the 500 ml pack was introduced for just ₹5, making it easier for the consumer to carry and use.

As time went on and the concept of bottled mineral water gained recognition, more pack sizes were introduced, small to large for individuals in different situations and bulk category (12-20 litres) for households and commercial establishments. And the product itself became more affordable. User-friendly innovations, such as pouring spouts and jars with dispensers were introduced. Research was conducted to discover more target groups, leading to Bisleri being used during special and festive occasions, with all age groups appreciating the convenience of individual bottles.

One of a kind

The brand continued to grow, foraying even into the rural markets. It was the first to introduce a breakaway seal in 1997. Soon it was facing competition from other bottled mineral water brands and in 2006, it decided to break through the clutter by changing the ‘blue’ colour packaging to ‘aqua green’, making it stand out. In 2017, the brand introduced labels in regional languages. This resonated with the consumer and helped in weeding out counterfeit packs.

Today, if the name Bisleri has become almost generic for packaged mineral water, it is because it created the category from scratch and maintained its position with good quality, hygiene, different size offerings (from 250 ml to 20 litres), innovations and a centralised consumer care cell to handle queries and complaints.

Of its 125 operational plants, 13 owned, and a robust distribution network of 3,000 distributors and 5,000 distribution trucks across India and neighbouring countries, Bisleri has surged ahead of the competition. In fact, it has the world’s first vertical manufacturing plant for mineral water. Each of its plants has its own ground water source.

Prioritising safety

The laboratory located at the Bisleri head office in Mumbai conducts regular tests on the raw and treated water at every Bisleri production facility to ensure uniformity, quality and hygiene. The company claims that every drop of Bisleri undergoes a ten-step quality process and 114 tests to ensure safety, purity and uniformity. These relate to the taste and colour of the water and the number and type of micro-organisms present. Ozonisation, sand filtration, double filtration, reverse osmosis, mineralisation and re-ozonisation are some of the steps followed.

 

Other products from Bisleri now include Vedica, bottled Himalayan water; Fonzo, mango drink; Spyci, spicy cola; Limonata, lemonade; and Bisleri soda.

Whether in its first print ad featuring a butler holding two Bisleri bottles and the tagline ‘Bisleri is veri veri extraordinari’ or in its latest ad featuring camels insisting on Bisleri water because ‘Har Pani ki Bottle Bisleri Nahin’, the brand has captured the essence of its USP —safety, health and purity. The Bisleri Meme Fiesta — which encourages the ‘fun’ aspect — has seen many responses from consumers.

The brand is also at the forefront of sustainability, through its ‘Bottles for Change’ initiative, where it urges citizens to dispose of used plastic bottles responsibly and recycling the same. Benches made from recycled plastic have been placed across Mumbai city. In fact, 5,000 Bisleri employees have been provided recycled PET uniforms!

This project, done in collaboration with three NGOs, has created income opportunities for waste-pickers and educated students across schools on the benefits of recycling.

Apart from this, Project ‘Nayi Ummeed’ from Bisleri conserves rainwater by building check dams. 131 check dams built across Gujarat and Maharashtra have helped about 124 villages and irrigated 6,500 acres of land.

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