Specialty Food Magazine


Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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Page 33 of 139

WINTER 2018 31 PHOTO: WAIĀKEA HAWAIIAN VOLCANIC WATER 31 WINTER 2018 "I was always fascinated by water," says Ryan Emmons, 27. As a student at the University of Southern California, he got the idea for bottling the precious resource in an eco-friendly way while he was visiting his mother's family in Hawaii. One day he was struck by the "amazing" taste of natural spring water from his uncle's well. Emmons, a Santa Barbara native who surfs and reveres the great outdoors, came up with an environmentally responsible, socially con- scious and youth-oriented spin for a business model: "Carbon neutral Fiji Water but with the lifestyle brand of Red Bull," he says. Waiākea Hawaiian Volcanic Water debuted commercially in 2012 and is now in 5,000 stores across the country. For every liter sold, a week's supply of clean water is donated to water-starved regions of Malawi. The amount, based off per capita consumption, goes to com- munities in need through Pump Aid, Emmons' charity partner. To date, 500 million liters have been channeled to rural regions, he says, through digging wells and building and maintaining pumps. Waiākea water, from rain and snowmelt, is tapped on Hawaii's Big Island. No one can own water rights in Hawaii, but he was able to lease the source for 99 years and describes how it's filtered through porous volcanic rock, becoming rich with electrolytes, alka- line, and minerals like potassium, magnesium, calcium, and silica. Emmons and his co-founder, Matt Meyer, did market research and used their savings, as well as money from family and friends, to help finance the operation. "Our families thought it was a pipe dream at first," Emmons says, adding that he had no food and beverage industry experience at the time nor any useful networking contacts. "I learned a lot every single year, almost an accelerated MBA in itself." In studying packaging options, rPET bottles manufactured from post-consumer recycled plastic seemed to produce the low- est emissions for ship- ping. That choice led to Waiākea being named one of the first premi- um bottled waters in the world to be certi- fied CarbonNeutral. "Glass is great," Emmons says, "but you have to worry about the cleaning solvents used, and people don't realize how much that weight affects your car- bon footprint in terms of travel." Post-college, he moved into a "tiny" house in Los Angeles with six friends who all helped build the enterprise. They took stipends and stock options in lieu of salary, he explains. "We'd go buy our food for the entire team at Costco and ration it out," he recounts of how they survived from week to week. Initially, they self-distributed Waiākea water by renting U-Haul trucks. Accounts at specialty food stores in California and Hawaii came quickly. Soon, they could afford a professional distributor. "The water texture has a soft mouth feel," he says, "with a subtle hint of sweetness in the aftertaste. It's so good, it sells itself." And now he can afford to have just one roommate: his girlfriend. CITIZENSHIP Ryan Emmons Waiākea Hawaiian Volcanic Water highlights 2011 Ryan Emmons has an epiphany when he tastes the water from his uncle's well in Hawaii. 2012 Waiākea Hawaiian Volcanic Water launches in Los Angeles; partners with Pump Aid to provide clean water to disadvantaged regions of Malawi; Emmons graduates from USC. 2015 Waiākea wins a Best in Biz Award for most socially responsible company in North America. 2016 Ranked #8 Disruptor of Beverage Industry by Beverage World magazine. 2017 Ranked #414 on the Inc. 5000 List for fastest growing companies in America.

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