"In 2019, only 7% of plastic was recycled, yes you read that right 7%! The more plastic we make, the more ends up in our forests, oceans and even our stomachs. Recycling plastic is clearly not working, It’s time to turn off the plastic tap. It’s why we put water in a can."
CanOwater was the first brand to introduce water in cans. They love and care for the environment which is the main reason the business started. Below is an interview we did with Josh, one of the founders, he has some great insights into the market and taught us a lot.
Why did you start the business?
We started the business in January 2016, the whole purpose behind the brand was found after me and two best friends went to Thailand in 2014. We noticed how serious the plastic problem was, it was never really on our agenda as it is something you don’t really see in London, just the odd one here and there but there were mountains of bottles on the beaches. We came back and done lots of research about types of recyclable alternatives and cans happen to be the most recyclable material, so we thought to ourselves, why has nobody thought to put water in cans?
What has been your main motivation?
Passion and authenticity is what drove us to do it because we had no experience in the drinks market, we’d never done anything before in drinks.
How many of you were in the team to start with?
It started off with just 3, me and my 2 best mates. We are now a team of 7, we have a commercial director, an operations team and also Atlanta that’s doing marketing with us and we’ve got a managing director as well. Obviously a board and investors as well. The team that sits inside the office is 7, but the company, there is quite a few of us now.
What has been your biggest hurdle?
I think its 2 things. 1 is scaling a business isn’t easy, you go from selling nothing to selling lots then lots and lots and lots and we are at that point now where we want to just keep going and selling more and more, but it’s not easy, especially when you have no experience to start with. That is why you bring in industry experts and work alongside them and learn from them which is something I have continued to do since starting the business. Our biggest hurdle was in 2018, we went from being a fad, no one believed in cans of water, even my family said I was crazy. Until David Attenborough started talking about Blue Planet and millions of people started trying to understand what the best alternative to plastic is. After people started doing the research that we did people started to understand that it was cans, then overnight we went from a brand who were selling nothing to a brand who were selling millions.
In 2018 we had our busiest summer and there were a batch of a few hundred thousand cans where the still cans were filled with sparkling water. This was a really scary time for the brand because we had to troubleshoot and find a way to get past that hurdle. We stayed calm and dealt with the situation and called back the cans. You just have to get through it, it’s not easy and it's very scary, but looking back on it now we got through it. It has made me personally a much stronger person, when you deal with something like that you learn about yourself and how to deal with situations in business. I would definitely say I’ve grown as an individual from an experience like that.
What are your plans for the future with CanOwater?
Our plans for the future are to expand and grow. Our mission has always been to remove plastic from the environment and we can do this by selling a more recyclable alternative and helping people to choose better for the planet. We will do that through educating and innovating. Educating is a massive thing for us, the consumers I was talking to when I started the business were confused by what we were doing, but now people at events already understand why we’re doing it. People have seen CanOwater at events and on their shelves, everyone is slowly realising that cans are better than plastic, for us it’s just about doing it on a bigger scale now.
Do you only sell nationwide, or do you export?
We do sell little bits in places like Dubai and Singapore. The Middle East is very interesting for us as they are trying to remove plastics from a lot of their offerings in places such as hotels etc. For us, I think it is really important to conquer the market in the UK first and then move to becoming worldwide. I have seen so many brands who have tried to tackle the whole world with a huge variety of products and flavours, but this makes them run out of money so quickly. We just want to conquer the water world, it’s a very boring market where no one ever innovates and there is a lot of greenwashing. So for us it’s about how do we educate people with just 2 products, still and sparkling water.
You spoke about the Middle East, does this mean you will need to find a new water source to reduce carbon emissions?
Yes, if we were to move to another continent, one of the most important things would be to find a new spring that has good quality water. We are always looking to be the best brand we can from the sustainability perspective, but sometimes as I’m sure you guys can understand you can’t be perfect because there are sustainability hurdles. For example, we have always wanted to be in cardboard boxes, but our co-packer can’t do this right now, and if they do it will be too expensive. It’s all about being the best brand that you can be and I think a lot of brands can be better but they won’t be better because they choose profit over purpose.
What advice would you give to aspiring drinks entrepreneurs?
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do it, so many people in the first two years were doubting us, saying it would never work and we will never get into big chain supermarkets. We were very naïve, but I’m glad that we were, because if we weren’t we would’ve just packed up our bags and gone back to our old jobs. Don’t listen to anyone that doubts you, go with your gut and instincts, if you disagree with people telling you can’t do it then follow your gut and prove them wrong.
It was a great pleasure to learn, and talk to Josh. JIN JIN’s motto is to drive people towards healthy lifestyles and a more sustainable future. Our recommended serving is to dilute 1 part JIN JIN with 10 parts still or sparkling water so why not mix it with the most environmentally friendly water brand, like CanOwater.
Josh and the CanOwater was kind enough to send over some of their product to use in our first GUT FRIENDLY POP UP CONCEPT STORE.