Building a premium brand in the mineral water industry is no easy task, but Horațiu Rada, General Manager, Aur’a Mineral Water, relies on a product of outstanding quality that has already tapped many international markets including the US, France, Spain, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, and China. And the company’s plans do not stop there.
What inspired you to start this company in the mineral water business?
Aur’a’s story began in 2013, when I founded Aur’a Mineral Water together with my friend and associate Eleodor Coptil. At that time, we had already been active in the energy sector for many years, with our company specializing in electrical networks and installations. But, after some discussions followed by exploration works in the Banat Mountains we arrived at Ocna de Fier, where we discovered this wonderful spring, Ursoanea. We took water samples, we had them tested in Romania and in Germany, and all the tests confirmed the special properties of that water: alkalinity, the presence of gold and silver colloids, microbiological purity.
All these qualities make Aur’a a unique water, and we decided to invest in this project and develop a company that bottles water a few meters from where it springs.
What are the biggest strengths of the company?
In a nutshell, Aur’a means health, sustainability and quality. Each of these principles can be described in detail. For example, the special properties of Aur’a are recommended to all those who are interested in a healthy lifestyle, discerning customers who put an emphasis on quality.
The quality of our water has not only been recognized by end consumers, but also by famous organizations worldwide. Thus, Aur’a is the only water in Romania that has been awarded three gold stars six years in a row by the International Taste and Quality Institute in Brussels. It also received the Superior Taste Award, and the Crystal Taste Award in 2018, a distinction granted to a limited number of products in the world. Since 2019, Aur’a has been part of the mineral water elite, promoted globally by the Fine Water Society. Nationally and internationally, Aur’a non-carbonated and Aur’a carbonated water are products that enjoy a Kosher Parve certification.
In terms of sustainability, Aur’a water is bottled exclusively in glass bottles. We are totally against using plastic packaging because it alters the unique properties of the water. PET releases large amounts of dioxin when exposed to sunlight. Plastic microparticles have been found in PET-bottled water. Drinking water from PET bottles, we certainly accumulate plastic too. Moreover, we bottle Aur’a water in glass bottles only because we also want a cleaner environment and a plastic-free future.
In conclusion, we believe that Aur’a is one Romania’s top premium products that are exported and can compete successfully with any competitor in the field.
What are some of the challenges that you have faced in growing the business?
Water qualities and the use of glass bottles make Aur’a more expensive compared to other mineral water brands on the market. However, it remains within the limits of a premium product, as we emphasize every time when this question is raised. It is a local water brand and those who buy it pay for the investment, the quality of the product, they pay for the safety offered by the product, and these are essential aspects. From the very beginning, we set out to provide maximum safety for the consumer. Therefore, it is a water that is bottled 47 meters from its springs, using only two sets of filters, and it is an alkaline water. By the way: everything we eat is acidic, that’s why we need alkalinity for balance. Aur’a is naturally alkaline. We cannot compare tap water, which undergoes all kinds of treatments including chlorination, having a certain accepted level of nitrites and nitrates, to a purely natural water, a true miracle. It naturally stabilizes gold and silver colloid particles, with a special ph-level, and coming from an area without human activity.
So the challenge for consumers is about perception and knowledge. However, we are using all the means at our disposal to inform consumers on the health benefits of consuming this water. Of course, education takes time, but Romanians’ interest for quality products and a healthy lifestyle is on an upward trend. Therefore, we are convinced that the market for premium products will grow over time.
What is the total investment that has been made in the company’s development, equipment, and distribution chains so far?
Aur’a Mineral Water is a company with 100% Romanian capital, and the investment is part of a five million euro project.
How intense is competition in your industry and what expansion opportunities have you identified?
It’s enough to take a look at any grocery store water shelves and we can get an idea of the size of this market. There are many brands, many companies that produce bottled water. But Aur’a is more than water. It is a premium product, a product that supports a healthy lifestyle, therefore it is not widely present in stores. You will soon find it in restaurants, hotels and in specialized stores, whose offer includes carefully selected products, and it will also be available online. In fact, Aur’a is not dedicated exclusively to the domestic market, the water being on sale in countries such as the USA, France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, the United Arab Emirates, China, etc.
What are your main markets and how can the company gain new markets and customers?
As I mentioned before, Aur’a is already present in some hotels and restaurants in the USA, France, Great Britain, Israel, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. In the US, Aur’a can be found in Miami restaurants and hotels, for example. It is available in restaurants on Cote d’Azur, it was on the tables of international movie stars at the Cannes Film Festival. Recently, I signed a contract with the United Arab Emirates, right at the Romanian booth at EXPO2020 in Dubai, which is equivalent to a great success for a Romanian product. Through this contract, Aur’a will also reach the luxury restaurants in the Burj Khalifa area and Mall Dubai. Therefore, we are constantly striving to open up new markets, and the feedback we receive is positive. Foreign interest for Aur’a water is high.
What are the key projects the company is focusing on, and what are its main objectives for 2022?
Every year, we have strived to expand our production, introduce new technologies, and international food safety certifications, including the kosher product certification, certifying product quality and maximum safety.
Another strategic objective is sustainability and environment protection. That is why we have partnerships with waste collection and recycling companies.
Last but not least, we want to create a water exchange trading platform and encourage the consumption of local waters that are just as good as the imported brands. We hope to achieve that with individual customers and companies operating in the hospitality industry.
What is the greatest challenge the industry is facing?
Speaking of challenges, I think the biggest challenge for us has been to make consumers aware of the water they drink and why.
We are constantly trying to provide information and increase awareness on the importance of consuming water bottled in safe packaging, having special properties, and without a negative impact on the environment. Everything can be summarized in just a few words: health and safety, and respect for ourselves and for the nature must prevail.
The biggest challenge facing the industry?
Simple! The level of consumer awareness as well as the super aggressive marketing policy promoted by certain companies.
What are the main industry differences between pre- and post- COViD-19?
While in 2019, before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the foreign markets were very optimistic, in the last two years all the markets have seen a slowdown. First and foremost, the quantities ordered for export have been significantly reduced.
The pandemic has affected our business and we had to rethink our strategy; thus, we have focused more on the online area to be closer to consumers who order water from home. However, since fall 2021, markets have become much more dynamic; for example, we have had new orders and contracts in the USA, in Europe, and we have tapped Qatar and Saudi Arabia markets. The Romanian market has also begun to understand the need to consume healthy products.
Overall, we hope that 2022 is going to be a year of recovery.
What is the most interesting trend that you see in 2022?
There is an old saying, “We are too poor to buy cheap things”. That is why we have seen a trend among consumers trying to be very particular about what they consume. I’m saying this because the safety of the products we consume is essential for a healthy lifestyle, coupled with an increased attention to environment protection issues, and, last but not least, supporting the national economy by consuming Romanian products.