Cultural and political differences notwithstanding, there exists a wide, watery world of contrasts—and some striking similarities—between the U.S. and French point-of-use (POU) drinking water industries.
In a single week in February, four international water treatment equipment related trade shows were attended by WC&P — three in Paris and one in Atlanta, all of which featured POU and other products.
Aqua-Expo (Feb. 6-10), which convened at the stylish Palais de Congrès, was held in ironic proximity to Thermalies (same show dates, same venue), which paradoxically promoted a far more elite world of elegant European spas, one emersed in half- and one-liter bottles of expensive mineral waters, often bearing exotic labels. The two shows, held concurrently for both the trade and the general public, aired both sides of a major issue in France — “Is it healthier to drink traditional bottled mineral water than modern mechanically filtered water?”
France is the world’s largest consuming country of bottled natural mineral waters of every description, so the POU side of the aisle clearly had its work cut out for it. In other words, the recent change in French currency from francs to Euros seemed far less trouble than trying to convince the French to stop “hitting the bottle” in favor of in-home filtration.
Interclima (Feb. 5-7), the European trade show for the “establishment” players in the heating, cooling, ventilation and plumbing industries, was held in three connecting halls in the Paris Expo complex across town from Aqua-Expo.
Ideo Bain (Feb. 5-10), convened in a separate hall near Interclima and featured fashionable kitchen and bath fixtures, including two integral faucet filters for the kitchen and bath. Like Aqua-Expo the public was invited but, in this case, only after three days of “trade pros only” traffic.
The International Builders Show (Atlanta, Feb. 8-11), the trade show for builders, remodelers and distributors of building products, including home water treatment was — for the first time in many years — without representation from the water softener and RO segments. This year’s POU field was limited to major-brand filter faucets and refrigerator water filters (see On to Atlanta…).
American brands in Paris
France is still in its POU infancy, but has a history of welcoming U.S. water treatment brands, which have historically set up their own specialty dealer networks. They include Culligan, EcoWater, Kinetico, RainSoft, Hague and more recently, Cuno’s AquaPure brand. While the product mix is slightly different, with more countertop drinking water systems in France and fewer undercounter ones than in the United States, the products looked quite familiar.
Meanwhile, two major U.S. retail brands — Brita and PUR — are engaged in an ambitious media advertising war in Europe and America.
At Aqua-Expo, the Omnipure line of POU/POE cartridge filters was represented by John Hardy of AllPure France, a recently formed subsidiary of AllPure Filters Ltd. in the United Kingdom. The company represents over 800 filter styles, according to Hardy. AllPure manufactures both housings for John Guest and stainless steel braided hoses, which it also showed. AllPure France targets independent distributors and dealers. It also provides a company website for plumbers — www.plumbline.com
Hardy was optimistic about prospects for POU growth in France, citing the possibility of “more chlorination of public water” and “the high cost of bottled water” as positive indicators.
Also at Aqua-Expo, CUNO Europe S.A., showed a very broad line of commercial as well as residential equipment, from filter housings to a “scale stopper” polyphosphate injection system, from Water Factory undercounter and countertop RO systems to Aqua-Pure water softeners. CUNO introduced its new line of compact NEP polypropylene filter cartridges with automatic shut-off valves and sanitary quick-change feature. Alexander Kahlert, CUNO’s sales manager for France, said the new cartridge would target OEM faucet and appliance manufacturers as well as independent dealers and distributors. CUNO also displayed its BeveragePlus RO system for the restaurant industry, a compact unit for high total dissolved solids (TDS) water that reduces scale and produces up to 150 gallons of water per day.
Hé, homme de Culligan!
Now a French-owned company, the Vivendi/USFilter subsidiary exhibited at Interclima. It showed a mix of residential and light commercial products, including an anti-Legionella disinfection system for restaurant kitchens. (Note: Several other Interclima exhibitors addressed Legionella disinfection with systems for hydronic heating systems. More than 2,000 people were inflicted with the disease last year in France, including 200 fatalities, according to reports.)
In a separate interview at Culligan’s national headquarters in suburban Paris, Christian Chaudron, president of Culligan France, traced the company’s French presence since 1960. “We sell through a 50/50 mix of some 65 company-owned and franchised dealers,” said Chaudron, “including 40 retail water stores under the ‘Boutique d’Eau’ name.”
The stores, generally located in high-traffic areas, added Chaudron, “create a link for customers, sold in the home” as well as displaying the extensive Culligan and Apic lines of water softeners, RO and carbon filtration, end-of-faucet filters and even carafes. Chaudron showed modular showroom displays, available to water store dealers.
Culligan also sells low-end filters through discount and department stores, which Chaudron defended as fertile ground for developing later step-up sales through Culligan dealers. “The market for water softeners in France has doubled in the last six years,” said Chaudron. “Over that same period, Culligan dealers have developed significant success in the delivered bulk water business to offices.” (Note: Bottled water deliveries to residences are not presently allowed in France.)
Culligan offers certified training for dealers who use their own installers. Dealers are trained to sell commmercial/industrial as well as residential equipment at the Culligan Training Center. All Culligan products sold in France arrive pre-assembled from plants in Bologna, Italy and the United States.
French Culligan dealers are organized into well-defined advertising cooperatives, as in the United States. Culligan coordinates mass mailings, telemarketing and other advertising, including outdoor billboards. “About 24-30 percent of dealer sales leads come from participation in local home shows,” said Chaudron.
Kinetico, systèmes de l’eau de qualité depuis 1970
A meeting with Jean-Pierre Lebacq, director of Kinetico France at Interclima, provided perspective on the company’s “green marketing” strategy in Europe. “France and Europe are ‘green’,” said Lebacq, “ with strong interest in environmental product advantages. Kinetico products are well-positioned to appeal to their environmental side with the only non-electric water softeners on the market and extremely efficient RO systems with pressureless tanks that fill and flow faster.”
Kinetico presently has 25 dealers in France but projects 50 dealers within the next few years. Lebacq’s responsibility includes all of Europe for Kinetico, which recently acquired his operation from an independent distributor. Kinetico is providing centralized installation and maintenance training and certification. Dealers share sales leads generated by Kinetico participation in 12 home shows. Lebacq plans to pioneer an equipment rental program in France, borrowing a proven U.S. dealer marketing strategy. “We project 15 percent sales growth in water softeners this year, and 14 percent growth in RO systems with built-in UV sterilization in rural areas.” (Note: Unlike in the United States, European RO systems place the UV component after the tank.)
In addition to Culligan and Kinetico, we had also intended to meet with official representatives of EcoWater in Europe — as well as those from Austria’s BWT Inc. — but ran into a couple of scheduling conflicts.
European players in France
Stagon Water Filtering Systems, Reggio Emilia, Italy, exhibited at Aqua-Expo, showing a wide variety of residential drinking water systems, including RO with a carbon block post-filter wrapped around a UV element to meet strict European sanitation standards. Its new Spring countertop system features attractive appliance styling and can be fitted with various combinations of carbon, ceramic and even RO components. The vertically integrated, three-year-old company also sells filter cartridges and carbon block elements made by Afima, a partner company in Monte Carlo, also represented at the booth. In the United States, Stagon partners with Jetta Corp. in Minneapolis, according to company owner Franco Sgarbanti. Stagon does its own injection molding, making filter housings and a wide range of cartridges for RO, including systems for seawater treatment. Sgarbanti added that the company also manufactures specialty industrial filter cartridges for chemical and high-heat process applications. Residential product components are FDA-approved and Stagon systems meet CE/NSF certification requirements.
Grohe, rumored as developing an integral filter faucet for European and U.S. markets, instead showed commercial sanitary systems for eliminating Legionella bacteria from commercial buildings. One involves electrolytic production of chlorine onsite. Another involves UV disinfection. It also introduced a smart-building system to monitor water usage at all points of use, which allows for smaller piping, better pressure drop control and integrates disinfection systems.
Aqua-Expo featured Morocco as its international spotlight in an exclusive exhibit area, hosting several bottled water and POU companies including Eau Fraiche, which manufactures a self-filling bottle POU system sold in French homes and offices. The company buys the self-filling 5-gallon bottles from Israel and the gravity-feed carbon block filters from the United States, according to director Ari Ouanounou, whose business is based in Creteil, France. Lead filtration and RO systems are also available in the handsome cylindrical cabinet with hot and cold water taps. The Moroccan section was anchored by ONEP — Morocco’s National Office of Potable Water — the government agency responsible for modern water treatment facilities in its homeland, including ones incorporating desalinization. According to a spokesman, Vivendi is involved in a private-public partnership to construct and maintain the facilities.
Across town at Interclima, we visited with several companies involved in water treatment who are based in Europe. John Guest exhibited its line of quick-release fittings and cartridges. Protec showed its line of chemical products for commercial/industrial water treatment. Protec, founded in 1988 and headed by Marc Georgelin, is based in Crosne, France, currently focusing on an automatic chemical injection system against Legionella for cooling towers and hydronic heating systems and water testing kits. CTA, another French company headed by Serge Tournie, markets the CTA brand zero discharge RO system, manufactured by Electrolux, and targets commercial kitchens. The compact unit is 80 percent efficient and makes up to 200 liters of product water per hour. Novelles Technologies, Marines, France, showed a permanent closed-loop water filtration system for central heating systems plus an automatic pressure maintenance system that meters necessary treatment products for exterior boiler rooms. Gruenbeck, a German company, showed a chemical-free sanitizing system for domestic and commercial hot water systems that combines ultrasound and UV to eliminate Legionella bacteria. Reflex and ELBI S.p.A. showed a broad line of steel pressure tanks for the water improvement industry.
BWT/Permo exhibited a complete line of residential and commercial water improvement products from its large island booth at Interclima, including softeners and UV. It also showed electronic selling tools and point-of-purchase displays for dealers.
Judo-France is a major German manufacturer of water improvement products for home and industry that exhibited at Interclima. Residential products shown included RO systems and water softeners, including one with a BioQuell bactericidal system to fight controversial heterotrophic bacteria. Commercial products included electronic scale removal and a complete line of carbon-based filter cartridges.
Brea Sa, based in Maure De Touraine, France, is a distributor of many water improvement products sold in-home under the Brea brand. Founded in 1988 by Pierre Satin, it buys products from TGI, Electrolux and Hague. Brea sells through a network of franchised dealers, primarily in the western half of France. The company emphasizes dealer training and telemarketing and home show marketing to develop sales leads.
Dieau, based in Cebazat, France, met with WC&P editors at Aqua-Expo to discuss plans for its Diva stainless steel cabinet water cooler with self-cleaning water supply circuit that kills bacteria automatically in 95 degree water for 10 minutes. Marc Dietschi is its chairman.
Down at Ideo Bain
Two integral filter faucets were seen at Ideo Bain. The KWC filter faucet is a kitchen mixer with undersink carbon block cartridge made by CUNO. The 200-liter cartridge for taste, color and odor is standard. A lead cartridge is also available, according to Kurt Blumenthal, head of international sales. The Swiss faucet has a pullout feature, an audible “beep” filter-change indicator, and is available in chrome and chrome/black finish. The KWC design features a separate plastic POU faucet at the back of the chrome mixer. An optional carbonization feature—also popular on a number of coolers exhibited at Interclima—is also available, said Blumenthal. American Standard’s European subsidiary, Ideal Standard, showed a bathroom mixer with integral filter for drinking water. The carbon block cartridge is suspended on the wall under the cabinet. Filtered water is dispensed from the same main spout as utility water with a special twist of the handle.
About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing, of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, e-mail: [email protected] or website: http://www.lenzimartin.com.