Established in 1995, Ice River Springs has grown significantly to become one of the largest water bottling companies in North America. A family-owned operation, Ice River Springs has been built upon the values of environmental stewardship, innovation and an ethical business model that offers consumers a high-quality and healthy bottled water beverage at a great value.
Ice River Springs was founded by husband and wife team Jamie and Sandy Gott, farmers who saw an opportunity to break into the bottled water market. Spring water was a component of their fish farming operations, and it seemed like a natural extension of their business plan. The Gotts doubled their water business every year in the first three years of operation and continued to grow at a rapid pace.
In 1998, Ice River Springs became the Gott’s sole focus, and they shuttered their fish operations. During the frenzy caused by Y2K, Ice River Springs were able to capitalize fully on the spike in demand for bottled water. They reinvested profits back into Ice River Springs, which has driven the company’s growth through continuously improved processes.
“We started the company in 1995 with just a very small 5,000-square-foot building that my husband built in Feversham, Ontario,” said Sandy Gott, executive vice president, co-owner and co-founder of Ice River Springs. “We started to produce private label bottled water, and it just grew from there. Today we have fourteen plants altogether, seven in U.S., and we’re building our sixth bottling plant in Canada along with our recycling facility.”
Each facility supports a surrounding region or market to reduce the distance that the water must be transported. As water is a heavy product, Ice River Springs’ endeavours save energy through both the highly efficient processes and shorter shipping distances that minimize the company’s carbon footprint.
Ice River Springs has grown from a small-scale operation on the family farm to an industry leader and a major source for some of North America’s top retailers. The company now competes with some of the most prominent names in the industry and does so with a strong environmental commitment and a business model unlike any other.
Over the years, it has acquired other companies including Gibraltar Springs Water Company, another plant in Revestoke, BC from Cott Beverages; the High Springs plant in Florida; Arrowhead Water in Western Canada and its most recent acquisition, Fernbrook Springs in Ontario. It has also undergone expansions of its own plants and started green field operations such as the Lachute plant in Quebec and the Allentown plant in Pennsylvania.
In 2002, the company built its energy efficient manufacturing operation in Feversham, Ontario. Then, in 2005, instead of having to haul water from the spring to the plant, Ice River Springs invested in a five-mile water pipeline to more efficiently carry water from the source to the manufacturing facility.
In 2011, Ice River Springs, taking its commitment to the environment one step further, opened Blue Mountain Plastics. This closed-loop recycling plant in Shelburne, Ontario is the major point of differentiation for the company. The company is fully vertically integrated, equipped with lean processes, state-of-the-art technology and equipment and offers the benefits of recycling at no added cost to the retailer or the consumer.
Its closed-loop recycling plant makes it the only North American bottler with a plastics recycling operation that is capable of producing one hundred percent recycled bottles from polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
“We built our recycling facility in 2010 to produce our own recycled PET for one hundred percent recycled bottles. Today, we have agreements with municipal recycling facilities, and we purchase about eighty percent of the blue box PET bottles in Ontario, and we also purchase bales from outside of Ontario,” Gott noted.
To avoid trips with empty trucks, recycled materials are brought to the recycling facility on the same trucks that have just delivered shipments of water to urban areas. At the Shelburne facility, these bales are sorted, plastic flake is created, cleaned and transported to the Feversham plant where a solid state polymerization (SSP) purification process turns it into grade food recycled PET (rPET), and it is formed into bottles. This process is repeated over and over again, so the bottles do not go to landfill.
“What’s interesting,” Gott acknowledges, “is in this process, we have been challenged to find good uses for the other types of plastics that have come into the facility with the PET bales. In particular, we found that we had a lot of HDPE caps.”
“We didn’t want those to end up going back into landfill, so we invested in a plant in Stratford, Ontario, CRP [C.R.Plastic Products], and they produce really beautiful outdoor furniture and Adirondack chairs with one hundred percent recycled material. They have a special chair that they make that is called our ‘cap chair’.” The chair is made from the HDPE caps that come into the bottling plant with the PET bales.
Similarly, in 2014, Ice River Springs launched its Ice River Green line as a means to use the green plastic that also found its way into the recycling plant but could not be utilized for the bottles of most of its branded and private label products. Jamie Gott came up with the idea to use the green flakes to create a totally recycled plastic bottle that is green both in colour and in principle.
“We launched Ice River Green bottled water which is in a distinctive green bottle, and the reason for this was that we were collecting many different green soft drink bottles in our recycling processes, and there were minimal uses for that material,” Gott explained. “Consumers have embraced this concept, and we’re very pleased with that growth.”
Ice River Springs is reducing its carbon footprint in other ways. It has eliminated the cardboard tray, uses smaller labels and minimizes the plastic used to produce the bottles and caps. Products are nested when transported to reduce space and improve ease of transportation. It has also significantly reduced the energy required to produce a case of bottled water by eighty-four percent since 2002.
“We use geothermal cooling from our springs, from the spring water, as it’s coming into the plant, through a heat exchanger. We use that to chill our injection equipment, which reduces our electrical demand. We also use solar panels, and all of our plants have been working towards our goal of zero landfill by the end of 2016, and some of our plants have achieved this target,” proudly stated Gott.
Ice River Springs won the ‘DuPont Innovation in Packaging Award’ in the responsible packaging category. “In 2014, we launched our one hundred percent recycled four-gallon bottle which is a bottle that sits on most water coolers,” explained Gott. “It’s a single-use bottle; there is no multi-use deposit required for the consumer, and it is fully recyclable.” The company offers spring water, purified water and distilled water in various bottle sizes from 250 ml (8 fl oz.) to 15 litres (4 gallons) in a variety of single units and multipacks.
In 2016, Ice River Green will be introducing sparkling water with organic flavours. “This is, as far as we know, the first North American sparkling water that will be made with organic flavours, so we’re excited to have that offering as well,” said Gott.
Ice River Springs is subject to stringent quality control standards and processes. Water sources are tested annually for over 250 compounds by independent laboratories. Ice River Springs conducts internal training for its quality team members which ensures they meet all industry standards.
Products must comply with all requirements that are laid out by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Health Canada, the Canadian Bottled Water Association and other jurisdictional regulations. Many of Ice River Springs’ largest retailers require additional certification by the Global Food Safety Initiative to meet global standards. “All our plants adhere to these standards and are certified as Safe Quality Food level three as a part of that program.”
Ice River Springs strives to be sustainable and pristine at every step. To protect its spring water source from agricultural chemicals, farmland near the Feversham operation was purchased and Osprey Organics came to be. The land is free from chemicals and certified organic by Pro-Cert. Osprey Organics offers maple syrup, maple water, barley, heritage oats, naked oats, corn, white navy beans, buckwheat and winter wheat.
The company is a member of the National Association of PET Recyclers (NAPCOR), The Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), Northeast Bottled Water Association (NEBWA) and Canadian Bottled Water Association (CBWA) and PLMA (Private Label Manufacturers Association). It is also a founding member of, and active member of the leadership council of packaging association PAC NEXT. Ice River Springs also works closely with the Ontario Waste Management Association (OWMA).
“We have about 600 people on our team now, and people are the heart of our organization. We’ve been here just over twenty years, and we have many long-term team members. We value their dedication and contributions. We strive to be an employer of choice and to create a legacy that we would be proud to pass on to our family and friends and loved ones,” said Gott.
The company also enjoys great relationships with its suppliers. “We really appreciate and value our supplier relationships. They help to keep us on the leading edge of technology and sustainability. They come to us with the newest and greatest ideas, and we’re fortunate to have that relationship with our suppliers.”
The company’s suppliers are an integral part of its innovative approach, while “Jamie is really the driving force in terms of our sustainability and our innovation in this company. He’s always pushing us ahead to be different and to go that next step. He’s been a great influence to keep us moving forward,” Gott said.
“Our goal is to be the leading innovator in environmental sustainability and provide customers with better for you beverages and consumer products. We are continuing to expand our footprint of plants, and we want to be closer to our customers and reduce our carbon footprint, and we want to continue to grow,” Gott stated. Without a doubt, Ice River Springs can meet this goal.