A market for bottled water usually requires hot weather, a large population and a suspect municipal water system, but Mount Olympus Waters Inc. has survived nearly 90 years on just half of that formula.
Competing with good municipal water systems along the Wasatch Front, Mount Olympus Waters has used its access to a mountain spring of cool, clear water on the slopes of Mount Olympus to become practically the sole source of bottled spring and distilled water for the growing population living in Utah's desert climate.The spring, leased on federal land in Neff's Canyon, is completely enclosed and protected. A pipeline takes the water from the spring to a awaiting 5,000-gallon tanker truck hauling the liquid to Mount Olympus Waters' plant at 1825 S. 3730 West, where the water is packaged and then distributed to offices, homes and supermarkets in Wyoming, Idaho and northern Utah.
In 1898, Mount Olympus Fruit and Livestock Farm Co. first began selling the natural spring water frozen and in bottles. The firm plodded along with annual sales of $70,000 when William C. Bailey, now president and chief executive officer, took over in 1963.
Bailey, an attorney, started with the company after business partner David K. Richards bought it. During his tenure with Mount Olympus Waters, which he acquired from Richards in 1983, he has engineered several acquisitions and marketing moves that have boosted combined annual sales of the company's bottled water and water purification operations to $6 million.
The first purchase was in 1964, when Mount Olympus Waters acquired the Utah franchise for Continental Water Conditioning as a way to enter the distilled water business.
Soon after, two small water distilleries were purchased and the growing company had to move from its location at 13th South and Fifth East to 651 W. Sixth South.
In 1980, Mount Olympus Waters moved to its present location, where it employs 42 people in the bottling division.
The Continental franchise also opened the door to the water purification business, which now accounts for half of Mount Olympus Waters' revenues. The company's water purification division employs 19 workers and researchers in developing and manufacturing water purifiers for hospitals, laboratories and industry nationwide.
"Getting into water treatment has taught us about the good parts and bad parts of water," Bailey said, noting all the water packaged by Mount Olympus is run through a purifier to remove any possible impurities.
He explained that some people can tell the difference between tap water and spring water, but the main reason why people prefer drinking bottled water is its aesthetic and health qualities.
Water from the Neff's Canyon spring has a high oxygen content and less than 50 parts per million in mineral content, while Salt Lake City's municipal tap water contains 250-500 parts per million mineral content, Bailey said.
"We won't take on city hall. City water is a good, safe product, but ours is still better."
Many people apparently feel the same way as bottled water and sparkling mineral waters have emerged as standard menu items at restaurants and necessities for the health- and fitness- conscious.
And Bailey has skillfully used the popularity of sparkling mineral waters to his company's benefit.
In 1986, Mountain Olympus Waters won the contract to distribute Perrier and Calistoga Sparkling Water. Distributing is a low-margin business, but Bailey said it was a great decision from a marketing standpoint.
With the two popular mineral waters in hand, Mount Olympus Waters had the clout to move its products from the Clorox shelf and establish a separate section for sparkling water and spring water in major supermarkets throughout the region.
The improved marketing position has helped Mount Olympus Waters increase sales and penetrate the residential market, particularly with its 21/2-gallon container, equipped with a spout, that can fit into a refrigerator.
"It's only been in the last few years that sales of our spring water have exceeded our distilled water because of the entry of sparkling water," Bailey said.
Despite the breakthrough at the supermarket and with residential customers, the familiar five-gallon jug atop a water cooler seen in office buildings throughout northern Utah remains the company's most important product, Bailey said. The five-gallon jug and rental on the water cooler accounts for 31 percent of Mount Olympus Waters' revenues.
In addition to selling natural spring water, Mount Olympus Waters purifies and distills tap water under its own label and other labels. The company also services laboratories and industry with pure distilled water.
For the future, Bailey said Mount Olympus Waters will continue to look for complementary lines of water and other beverages that will also help promote the spring water.
"As long as the concern for clean pure water remains, the future looks bright," he said.