This article originally appeared in the WQP June 2020 issue as "Tapping into Consumer Preference"
WQP Associate Editor Cristina Tuser spoke to James Peterson, market development manager for Crystal IS, about how commercial and consumer appliance manufacturers are tasked with addressing two competing demands: water flavor and guaranteed water purification. Many appliances, including water coolers, coffee makers or faucet filtration systems, have carbon filters in place that remove chlorine from the water to eliminate its odor or taste. Although this improves the flavor of the water, it also removes the first line of defense to mitigate the growth of microorganisms in the water, according to Peterson.
Cristina Tuser: How would you describe water quality in the U.S. as it relates to consumer preferences?
James Peterson: Overall, water quality is well maintained in the U.S. It comes down to consumer preference of the water. One-third of people drink water from the tap, one-third use filtration and one-third use bottled water. When trying to engage consumers with these options, it is important to give them assurance in the purification that they trust. There is also more media presence of water quality. It causes people to think about what they need to be thinking about doing for purification, or what service providers need to be doing. Many options that you see now are pitchers or faucet solutions, which are more cosmetic.
Tuser: What are some purification demands?
Peterson: Sometimes the purification demands can be incredibly challenging. For instance, microbial challenges result in requiring ultraviolet (UV) lamps or microbial filter cartridges. In that case, lamps experience full burnout and catastrophic failure, requiring emergency service. Microbial filter cartridges can cause cartridge clogging. It is definitely a payback decision, as the investments put into businesses are very large. Having units able to perform out in the field is important, instead of retiring legacy units and extending the life of the full unit itself, allowing for less capital expenditure.
Tuser: How does water flavoring play a role in consumer preferences?
Peterson: Flavoring is starting to be added, such as flavored seltzer. This is essentially making a more attractive alternative to bottled or tap water. The things we pay attention to are: 1) People that rent and operate these units out; and 2) How they care for them. Flavoring and carbonation use water directly from the water main, which gets predictable taste and flavor from the beverage. Purification is becoming more and more important in the system.
Tuser: How has the growth of the water industry been prolonged?
Peterson: The growth has been driven by consumer trends. You are seeing both the growth of bottled and enhanced water flavors. And then you are seeing a kickback on that, fighting the use of plastic overall. More sustainable alternatives are emerging, which do not have the same environmental footprint.
Tuser: What are common myths about meeting consumer demands?
Peterson: A myth is that one form can serve all needs, which we frequently see when reverse osmosis (RO) is the default service for purification. RO is a great decision, but it is not actually required for a certain facility. It may be that other solutions can be employed to give water that the consumer will love, trust and find health.
Tuser: How can manufacturers meet competing demands for both flavor and purification?
Peterson: It will be very difficult to meet all consumer demands, serving multiple regions and multiple customer bases. Many of these demands can be approached as a unique water quality solution, using solutions that are interchangable is a way to address the needs. Being sure there is the right level of protection that can deal with the potential variability. Those are challenges and they will be encountered. Everyone is becoming more aware of contaminants in our water. What we are starting to see is that consumers are trying to take faster actions, they are able to enact point-of-use or point-of-entry applications much faster. Yes, people can take action now. For utilities, the changes are asking for new approaches and may rely on systems that are more centralized.