Straight from the Source

Eaux Vives has one thing none of its competitors do: Canada’s purest natural water-filtration system, the ancient St. Mathieu esker, which produces the country's top-selling ESKA spring water

Sourced from the St. Mathieu esker in northern Québec, Eaux Vives’s spring water contains few minerals thanks to natural filtering, and its pH level is a finely balanced 7.8. The water is transported directly from a reservoir to the company’s bottling line via a stainless-steel pipe, meaning it never sits and gathers impurities, and it’s bottled in plastic that’s recycled and repurposed directly on-site. (Photos: Shanghoon)

The secret to Québec-based Eaux Vives Water Inc.’s ESKA water lies 600 kilometres north of Montréal. There, in a remote forest, snowfall and rainwater filter through the St. Mathieu esker to fill a reservoir with naturally pure water. Eaux Vives then bottles and distributes it across Québec, Ontario, and other parts of Canada.

The source of ESKA water, the St. Mathieu esker, purifies the product naturally, leaving it with total dissolved solids of 85 parts per million before it‘s bottled in Eaux Vives's nearby plant. (Photo: Ron Baxter Smith)
The source of ESKA water, the St. Mathieu esker, purifies the product naturally, leaving it with total dissolved solids of 85 parts per million before it‘s bottled in Eaux Vives’s nearby plant (left). (Photo: Ron Baxter Smith)
(Photo: Ron Baxter Smith)

“You can taste the difference,” says Lisa MacLean, a financial expert with consumer-goods experience who joined the company as its CFO in 2006. Although Eaux Vives started that year, it didn’t distribute its first bottles until 2008, but in the six years since, its brand, ESKA, has become the best-selling water in most of its markets. Beyond the water’s quality, a number of strategic choices have contributed to its success, and MacLean—also the company’s vice president of finance—is helping Eaux Vives maintain its dominance through a campaign that continues to promote ESKA as the top high-end bottled-water brand in the nation.

The popularity of ESKA goes back, first and foremost, MacLean says, to its taste and purity. ESKA’s total dissolved solids (TDS) for dissolved mineral salts (the amount of salt minerals dissolved in a volume of water) is 85 parts per million (ppm). The FDA has imposed a maximum TDS of 500 ppm for spring water, and ESKA’s competitors fall between 100 and 200 ppm. Basically, the quality of water is determined by its source, and ESKA’s source at St. Mathieu is second to none. “There’s no similar natural system in Canada,” MacLean says. “It’s a big differentiator for us that can’t be beat.”

Secondly, Eaux Vives has diversified its product portfolio to broaden its consumer base. Fancy restaurants want 740-millilitre glass bottles of ESKA, and families use plastic bottles that hold four litres, so proper sizing and packaging is critical. Eaux Vives offers plastic, sport, and glass bottles in many individual sizes and multipacks, and it also sells carbonated and flavoured varieties of ESKA. The company’s biggest seller? The 500-millilitre original plastic bottle. “There are a lot of different formats,” MacLean says, “and that means we go from high-end dining to home use to on-the-go consumption.” ESKA is also sold through all possible channels—grocers, convenience stores, food-service facilities, gas stations, etc.—and it’s the top SKU in each sector.

As a final measure to draw consumers, Eaux Vives keeps ESKA’s pricing and quality consistent by making its bottles and caps on-site rather than buying them. Using empty bottles shipped to the company’s remote location would just increase its carbon footprint, and it would also eat up space in its reservoir facility, so Eaux Vives instead uses as much recyclable material as possible and eliminates its own chemical waste on-site to keep ESKA water pure.

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“There are a lot of different [bottling] formats, and that means we go from high-end dining to home use to on-the-go consumption.”

Lisa MacLean
Lisa MacLean

MacLean is a financial accountant by trade but operates as a business consultant at Eaux Vives. She works with the leadership team and board of directors to develop innovations and employees, plan expansions, and set pricing, and together they’ve positioned ESKA above discounted brands but a notch below the most expensive waters. Although Eaux Vives’s products are priced 40 percent higher than those of the company’s biggest competitor, it still wins in every major channel in the market. “There is a place in the market for premium Canadian products,” MacLean says.

As it eases into 2015, Eaux Vives is focusing on maintaining its high levels of product quality and customer service as it pushes forward with more marketing, including sponsorship deals with cultural events, entertainment venues, and shows such as Top Chef. “People like the product once we make them aware,” MacLean says. “We have to get people to try it and stick to messaging built around purity, source, and taste.”