Nestle, the giant Swiss food and drink producer, has continued its expansion into the water cooler market with the acquisition of the French group Saphir.
Nestle already has a burgeoning home and office delivery (HOD) business in France, and Saphir's Opalia brand will now join those owned by RB Diffusion and Aquacool, both of which were bought by Nestle in the last 12 months.
RB Diffusion is active in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (PACA) region in the south of France, while Aquacool business is centred on the region north of the Seine and around Toulouse, and with Saphir, Nestle will for the first time have nationwide coverage within France for its HOD business.
The Swiss group said that the acquisition of the 33 per cent stake in Saphir was carried out by its Nestle Waters unit, although it declined to reveal the cost of the acquisition.
Saphir is part of the Safibri group which was formed in 1997 to supply a wide range of services to companies throughout France, including water coolers. Saphir's sales last year reached €10 million, and the company is the fourth-largest in the French HOD water market.
While this segment currently accounts for only a tiny part of the French market for bottled water - around 160 million litres compared to 7 billion litres for the market as a whole - it is the segment which has shown the most rapid growth in recent times - on average, 25 per cent per year.
"Coming together with Nestle Waters presents an opportunity for our company's long-term development and health. In a mass-consumption market that is far from having reached maturity, that is fragmented and that provides real growth opportunities, we have to be aware of our limitations and let reason guide the way for ourselves and the future of our collaborators," commented Saphir's founder and chief executive Jean-Luc Martinez.
The nationwide coverage it will finally achieve with the addition of Saphir's 17 warehouses will also allow Nestle Waters to proceed with the HOD launch of its Nestle Aquarel brand, a new bottled water product which Nestle is rolling out across Europe and which is ideally suited to the multi-site production strategy which Nestle can now put into place in France.
The Aquarel brand is designed to appeal to "the growing demand for a natural and light water, suitable for the whole family's daily consumption" and the first French bottling plant for the natural spring water brand has already been approved in the Var region of France. Although Aquarel is a natural spring water, it comes from a number of springs throughout Europe, providing the company with the flexibility to sell it across the Continent. Other French bottling plants are likely to be approved soon.
Frits van Dijk, Nestle Waters' chief executive officer, said: "These new developments confirm the strategic role the group wishes Home & Office Delivery and the Nestlé Aquarel brand to play to strengthen our leadership - not only in France but throughout Europe."
In parallel to certification of the first HOD site in France, two other sites were recently inaugurated, in Italy near Turin and in Germany near Frankfurt.
Nestle Waters claims to be the leader of the bottled water market worldwide with 72 brands sold in all formats, in all distribution channels and in 130 countries.