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Nestlé sells portion of Canadian bottled water operations

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Following the attempted sale of Nestlé’s Pure Life water business in Canada, the water giant has now made further efforts to distance itself from aspects of the water business by selling off its North American spring water brands for $4.3 billion to Wall Street interests last week.

Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA) consists of the U.S. and Canada operations of Nestlé Waters, the world’s largest bottled water company. It was sold to private equity firm One Rock Capital in New York City on Feb. 16.

Headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, with approximately 7,000 employees in the U.S. and more than 230 in Canada, NWNA has 27 production facilities across North America and operates the direct-to-consumer and office beverage delivery service ReadyRefresh.

In Canada, Nestlé stirred up controversy among many environmentalists who saw the company’s practices as exploitative, but the company denied any of the outcry factored into its decisions to sell off particular brands.

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In Guelph, Ontario, for instance, public opposition led to calls for a boycott against Nestlé, whose bottling operations extracted some 3.6 million litres of water a day in nearby Aberfoyle. The operations involved quantities of finite resources that were unsustainable, critics warned. Others expressed concern to the province that Nestlé was being charged so little in terms of dollars for taking groundwater to produce bottled water. Water bottlers have to pay $503.71 for every million litres of groundwater they take.

In summer 2020, Nestlé Canada Inc. announced an agreement to sell its Nestlé Pure Life bottled water business to Ice River Springs. The sale included two factories located in Puslinch, Ontario, and Hope, British Columbia, along with a well in Erin, Ontario, which may have been the source of the company’s greatest upheaval, at least in Canada. The sale, however, failed in fall 2020 due to the timing that was required to obtain regulatory approval from the Canadian competition bureau.

Dean Metropoulos, founder of the One Rock Capital family-owned investment firm, has worked to reinvigorate other companies such as Hostess Brands and Pabst Brewing Company.

“I am pleased to have the opportunity to lead NWNA as it enters the next phase of evolution,” Metropoulos said in a statement. “This is an important inflection point for the business as it transitions to an independent company, and I look forward to collaborating with One Rock and NWNA’s management team to deliver unparalleled value to our customers,” he added.

In 2019, the Ontario government extended a moratorium on issuing new water bottling licences in the province. That moratorium was again extended in October for another six months, until April 1, 2021, so that the province could consider new public consultation feedback on the issue.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article failed to mention that the 2020 sale to Ice River Springs was not completed due to the timing that was required to obtain regulatory approval from the Canadian competition bureau.

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