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Holland's Boxed Water offers eco-friendly drinks

HOLLAND TOWNSHIP, Mich. — It seems Boxed Water is Better is everywhere.

Smiling actress Anne Hathaway was photographed by paparazzi clutching a carton of the trend-setting beverage produced in Holland Township while she and husband Adam Shulman walked their dog on the streets of Brooklyn, N.Y., in March.

A few months later, actress Gwyneth Paltrow proudly showed off a box of it during a June photo shoot for Glamour magazine that expressed her feelings about the beverage that comes in eco-friendly, single-serving paper cartons.

Dubstep megastar Skrillex is a fan of it. So are lots of famed musicians who have brandished boxes while performing at Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits, according to The Holland Sentinel.

It has been shipped to multiple points around the globe.

It is available on the Hope College and Michigan State University campuses and an increasing number of local retailers while fast becoming a cultural phenomenon instead of a passing fad, as its loudest critics once claimed.

"We're very fortunate to have the celebrity endorsements. We don't pay for that," Boxed Water is Better Founder Ben Gott said. "I just got back from Lollapalooza over the weekend, and it's pretty unreal to see (some of the artists) up on stage promoting our product.

"For us to be a small company that started 3 1/2 years ago and be right there next to Budweiser at these festivals," he added, "that never gets old. That still blows us away."

The 11,000-square-foot production and storage plant, which opened in late June, shipped 300,000 units of its 500-milliliter-filled containers to Lollapalooza in Chicago as the exclusive water provider of the alternative music festival for the second consecutive summer.

It'll ship 500,000 units to Austin City Limits in October as part of an exclusive arrangement with another popular music festival in Austin, Texas, for the second consecutive year.

"It's taking off. We're exploding," Operations Director Chris Radford said. "It's pretty exciting. We project to surpass 1 million units, which more than doubles our sales volume from last year. In the past six months, we've added 20 distributors.

"Every week, we're adding distributors, and every week, they're adding retailers."

It is being sold in 14 states thus far.

The Hyatt and Marriott hotel chains are being supplied with it and the lengthening list of export shipments includes the first truckloads being sent to Canada soon.

So why is Boxed Water better?

It is, after all, just tap water from the city of Holland that's filtered and packaged in a simple black-and-white container that looks like a milk carton.

Its paper containers are 20 times more biodegradable than plastic bottles, which are a definite no-no among influential Hollywood A-listers and famed musicians who are socially conscious about stuffing landfills with plastic bottles.

The carbon footprint of the Boxed Water is Better containers is less since they're shipped flat to the Holland Township facility, they're stacked more efficiently for transport than rounded plastic bottles and the cartons are recycled into eco-friendly building materials.

Ten percent of profits are donated to world water-relief foundations. Ten percent is donated to reforestation foundations. Trees used to make its boxes come from certified well-managed forests.

And, furthermore, Radford points out, Boxed Water is Better does not steal from natural aquifers because of the company's respect for the global water supply.

"We're pulling from city water, but we pay for it. We're also paying taxes on it," he explained. "We're not trying to be the best-tasting water. That's why we don't say Boxed Water is best. We don't claim to be perfect. It's just better water in a box.

"We're not going to save the world with this product, but we're going to make it better."

The start-up company, privately funded by The Windquest Group, an investment and business management firm started by former Republican gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos and wife Betsy, was launched in Grand Rapids. It had co-packaging agreements with out-of-state filling operations.

It began searching for a production and storage plant to meet the increasing demand for its product and found a like-minded friend in New Holland Brewing Company, whose founder, Brett VanderKamp, practices sustainable methods in his operation.

The two beverage companies are located across the street from each other.

Inside, Radford shows off a million-dollar machine that processes and packages the water. It uses reverse-osmosis and carbon filtering to remove solids from the H2O and has room to add a second production line in the future.

It is producing 100,000 units per week at its current production level.

"Early on, the brand got a lot of recognition," he said. "The manufacturing simply wasn't able to keep up, which is why we had to find our own production and storage facility. We could quickly double capacity to produce 500,000 units per week. To Coke and Pepsi (which has its own water brands) that's not much.

"For a start-up company, though, those are huge numbers."

Indeed.

At the outset, Radford said Boxed Water is Better had been running its production line for five hours per week, but that's up to more than 40 during peak summer business to make sure its orders for Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits are met.

The operation employs five people on the packaging line and 12 total.

"We still haven't scratched the surface of what the true potential is for ourselves and the market," he said. "More and more, there's brand recognition."

Its growth, he insisted, is sustainable.

The increasing concern about the world's supply of clean water and contamination issues in Third-World nations is leading to inquiries from around the globe.

All of which puts the points back to its Holland headquarters.

"There's more of a community feel in Holland than a city feel," Radford said of choosing the lakeshore over Grand Rapids for its production plant. "It's just a nice place to get started. Our long-term vision is to set up satellite manufacturing facilities throughout the U.S. We'd like to set up a bottling facility every 250 or 300 miles.

"We've got huge plans."

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