Bag water sector blossoms
Tameka Gordon, Business Reporter
The local beverage market has seen the addition of a bagged water product which has spread to several parishes but the local regulatory body with oversight of the processed foods industry, Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ), says the activity has not been approved.
Wednesday Business has detected at least three brands on the market, whose sales blossomed over the hot, drought-ridden summer, though one St Catherine producer says it added the product to its line of beverages "years ago".
Sales proliferate in busy urban centres in and outside Kingston, but distribution is mainly through street and market vendors.
The Bureau of Standards says it "does not have any company registered to process/package 'bag water'." Such water traders would fall under the category of processed foods producers, said Ellis Laing, BSJ's public education and information coordinator.
"All processed-food establishments need to comply with the Jamaican Standard Specification for Processed Food (General), the JS-36, the BSJ said in its written responses, noting the same monitoring regime used in the cases of bottled water, bag drinks and canned food would apply.
The JS-36 outlines standards of good manufacturing practices for producers.
"Essentially, the practices entail the prevention of the entry of pests and insects, to ensure sure that staff or personnel working within the operation are maintaining good sanitary practices (and) ensure that all equipment utilised within the operations are also meeting certain sanitary specifications," said another BSJ representative.
Since registration with the BSJ is mandatory for all process foods producers, bagged beverage producers are also required to register, the agency said.
Among the brands of bag'water' detected by Wednesday Business are Uncle D's Pure Spring Water, produced by Uncle D's Limited in Kingston; Crystal Fountain Purified Water, manufactured by OJay Koolers in St Catherine; and Star Quench Purified Water.
Each bag retails for about $10.
Star Quench is supplied by different individuals, as advised by vendors and retailers of the product. Wednesday Business has observed sales of the product in Kingston, St Catherine and Clarendon.
It is not immediately known whether other 'bag water' products exist on the market but the brands detected seem to be a hit with commuters, vendors and transport operators who laud the convenience and cost effectiveness of the products.
"It doesn't taste like the real bottle water, but it can drink," said 57-year-old shop operator, Esmeralda Lewis.
Lewis said she has been buying the Star Quench brand "for months," adding she is also a consumer of the product as well as a seller.
When Wednesday Business visited Uncle D's outlet in Kingston, we were told the owner, Albert Alicock, was not available for an interview. The company's representative explained, however, that the bag water product was produced at the Princess Street location, which doubles as a wholesale outlet.
"Yes, this is where we make them," the person said.
Crystal Mountain Purified Water has been on the market for more than a year, said Margo Maitland of OJay Koolers.
"The bag water has been out longer than you think ... years actually," Maitland said.
OJay also produces fruit juices and other beverages, and distributes its products nationwide.
Its OJay brand is present on mainstream grocery shelves but the company was reluctant to name its portfolio of products. The representative deferred those queries to the head of the company, Lloyd Lewin, but he did not respond to requests for an interview.
The BSJ has not said whether it plans to begin monitoring the water product, but the standards agency's modus operandi when it detects unregistered activity is to work with companies, according to the BSJ source.
"In other words, if you are trying as a small company or selling some products in the marketplace, our compliance programme will normally go through the various shops and during this process we may detect new entry of products that are locally made and then we would make contact with those persons with a view to have them registered to assess their facility," the person said.