Dr. Gerrit Smit, Managing Director of the Yili Innovation Center Europe explains how inikin became an award-winning mineral water brand and was created to uphold Yili’s ‘best quality’ principles and environmental commitments.
Congratulations on winning the Best Packaging/Label Design at Zenith Global’s annual Global Water Drinks Congress in Evian, France. What makes the packaging/label design so innovative?
Thank you so much! We are honoured to have won an award in the highly competitive Drinking Water Category and to be in the same room as some of the world’s top players and experts in the beverage industry. The details of the label and its design language are focused on unity and simplicity. It has also been designed to reveal more of the bottle, which in turn means it wastes less plastic material. In order to add texture to the label, a UV coating was added to the background suggesting the brilliance of water. The bottles stand out on shelves thanks to its unique design and impactful language on the labels.
Yili’s packaging has been inspired by the product’s origin as natural volcanic mineral water. The bottle design uses geometric expressions to suggest the theme of volcanic rocks. When light encounters the mineral water in this specially-designed bottle, it will be infinitely reflected inside and outside, forming a brilliant pattern of light and shadow, inspiring a sense of vitality brought reminiscent of volcanic mineral elements. And, on a practical note, the geometry of the bottle makes it easier to hold.
Inikin Volcanic Mineral Water launched this year with a successful video, created in collaboration with Chinese National Geography, that has had over 11 million views. Why do you think the video appealed to so many people?
The video, ‘Gifts from the Volcano’, released on World Environment Day, tells the story of how volcanic mineral spring water began to form tens of thousands of years ago and reconstructs the entire formation process of volcanic mineral springs with the help of computer graphics. We also cooperated with a sanitation organization to provide 1,800 sanitation workers with environmental raincoats made from recycled mineral water bottles.
Nature and health have become new consumption trends and we created a video that resonates with consumers’ desire to explore nature and pursue healthy lifestyles. Its success is also down to the fact that Yili has actively pursued brand crossover opportunities that are well-aligned with our identity. Chinese National Geography was founded in 1950 and has influenced generations as a magazine dedicated to sharing the beauty of China’s natural environment with the world by “working in nature”.
Throughout the video’s initial conception and development to the final production, both Yili Group and Chinese National Geography have been committed to showcasing and safeguarding the power of nature in our respective fields; our common pursuit and ideals have led to this collaboration.
What inspired Yili to move into the mineral water sector by launching the inikin brand in 2019?
As a health food provider, Yili Group is committed to expanding its product portfolio to meet the needs of consumers for nutrition and health across all sectors of the population and at all stages of their lives. In China, the bottled water market has maintained a high compound annual growth rate and is the top-ranked category in the beverage category. Aligning with our “consumer-centric” principle, Yili started to invest in creating mineral water products to better support people’s health in the field of drinking water.
The bottled water industry is highly competitive as products have a similar taste. The key to differentiation lies in water resources, brand recognition and channel advantages. As a world-leading dairy producer, Yili has strong brand reputation and well-established channels. Consumers trust the quality of Yili’s brands. And as bottled water has a high degree of overlap with Yili’s existing channels for liquid milk, it was not difficult to achieve synergy across the relevant channels. The challenge that remains is the water source, which is a key factor in determining whether the product is premium and inimitable.
Your search took you to 100 water sources across the world… What determined your final selection?
The quality of the water and the ecology of its source are the most important factors that will ultimately determine the quality of the product. The inikin team visited major mineral springs around the world, making analyses and records of water quality, taste, sustainability, and development feasibility, among other considerations. Specific technical indicators included water quality test reports, trace element content, flow area, water output, location advantages, development and utilization difficulties, etc. The team also climbed nearby mountains to check the natural ecological conditions of the water sources.
After screening, field investigation and scientific comparison we chose the volcanic mineral water source in the Arxan and Changbai Mountains, where there is over 95% forest coverage and water temperature is maintained at 7-8°C year round. Filtered through deep underground volcanic rocks, the natural alkaline mineral water with meta-silicic acid is made in a long process involving multi-layer infiltration. Although the water source is relatively remote and requires costly transportation, the water quality makes the investment worthwhile – our quest was definitely worth the effort.
The logistics involved in bringing that to market sound complicated…
In order to maintain the purity of the mineral water, inikin’s plant is located just a few hundred meters away from the water extraction point. The protection of the natural ecology of the water source is also very important to us – there is no industrial or agricultural production in the protected area and it’s monitored 24 hours a day to ensure that every drop of the water comes from a strictly controlled and protected source. What inikin harvests is a rare natural mineral resource and it can only be harvested within a limited quota every day with a Mining Permit according to the law. We hope that inikin is not only a developer of natural water, but also a “guardian of rare water sources”.
Inikin means ‘living spring’ – how does its name relate to the Arxan and Changbai mountains?
There is a very interesting story behind the name “inikin”. Meaning “living spring”, it not only reflects the nature of flowing water in the low-temperature live volcanic spring, but also fully represents the natural vitality and vision that the brand hopes to give to consumers.
Yili chose Yi Ke as its Chinese name, which is comparable with inikin. “Yi” represents the beginning of everything, as water gives everything its initial vitality, while adhering to the parent brand’s concept of Yili meaning ‘the best quality’. Yi Ke also has the same pronunciation as the Chinese phrase for “one moment”, which denotes that at every moment, the constant flow of living water gives the body health and vitality and a higher quality of life.
Can you explain some of the energising health benefits of volcanic mineral water?
Inikin’s contents originate from the Arxan Mountains, also known as “China’s natural oxygen bar”, and the Changbai Mountains, one of the three areas in the world that’s home to the best water sources. It’s off the beaten track and its radius of about 800 kilometers has 95% forest coverage, as well as pure and clear water. Filtered through layers of magma, the deeply circulating groundwater has a naturally sweet and refreshing taste and is exceedingly rich in minerals including potassium, sodium and silicic acid. Thanks to these qualities, inikin is mildly alkaline with a pH level of 7.0-8.0 making it suitable for daily consumption.
Are there any other special features that sets inikin apart?
Guided by Yili’ ‘best quality’ principles, inikin strives for quality throughout the entire production process. The volcanic mineral water gushing from the Songhua Springs is transported to the storage tank in the factory through a fully enclosed pipeline, while the industry’s cutting-edge composite process is adopted to retain natural mineral elements in the water. The water is bottled in an ozone-free sterilized environment to conserve the environment. And finally, inikin has a QR code on its packaging which consumers can scan to view the water quality test report. Inikin organized a “trace-the-source trip” in the Changbai Mountains during this year’s World Water Monitoring Day giving consumers an up-close experience of the water source.
Inikin also partnered with Chinese National Geography to support scientific research – can you tell us about this?
Since 2019, inikin has worked with the scientific expedition team of Chinese National Geography in search of rare volcanic mineral water sources, and finally selected the rare water sources in the Arxan and Changbai Mountains to bring health and vitality to households across the world.
In 2021 and 2022, video clips of the formation process of natural volcanic mineral water were released to illustrate the concept of environmental protection and to encourage people to cherish and protect water resources. Inikin will continue to work with Chinese National Geography to uncover stories behind natural volcanic mineral water to the world.
What’s next for Inikin?
Inikin will continue to promote conservation of mineral water and water sources and share stories about the formation of premium water. Yili also plans to launch more water products and are confident the water sector will become a new driving force of the business.
To find out more visit Inikin.