News

Burnaby company gets huge water order from earthquake-ravaged Japan

Dean Hundseth, the production manager at Whistler Water Co., checks a bottle from the production line at their Burnaby bottling plant. The company has received an order for 1.4 million 1.5 litre bottles for Japan, where people are turning off their tap water because of concern about radiation leaking from a damaged nuclear power plant. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Dean Hundseth, the production manager at Whistler Water Co., checks a bottle from the production line at their Burnaby bottling plant. The company has received an order for 1.4 million 1.5 litre bottles for Japan, where people are turning off their tap water because of concern about radiation leaking from a damaged nuclear power plant.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

A Burnaby bottled water company is scrambling to keep up with demand after it received a massive order from Japan last week.

Orders had been coming in “fast and furious” to Polaris Water Company since the recent earthquake and tsunami devastated a region of Japan, said Chris Dagenais, spokesperson for the company.

On March 22, when Japanese officials announced radiation had been detected in the water supply, advising people it was not fit for infants to be drinking in formula, it caused a “huge run on water that was already in scarce supply,” said Dagenais.

That evening Polaris, which sells its product in Japan under the Whistler Water Company brand name, received an order for 100 ocean freight containers—about 1.4 million, 1.5-litre bottles—in addition to the 30 to 40 containers it was already producing based on the increased demand.

Since then, the company has been running full-steam ahead, securing suppliers for everything from plastics, caps, labels, boxes and trucking services, and the labour necessary to get it all done.

“It’s quite a logistical challenge,” he said. “It’s been a bit of a manic pace, for sure.”

The first shipment of water is already on the ocean and is expected to arrive in Tokyo on April 4 with additional containers arriving “pretty much every week after that for the foreseeable future.”

The company’s Japanese distributor proactively began increasing its orders after the disaster. Dagenais said the distributor will be helping supply relief efforts in the affected region, where hundreds of thousands of people are still homeless and living in evacuation shelters, as well as restocking empty store shelves.

Part of the logistical challenge, Dagenais said, is the Japanese government is very strict in what it allows to be imported into that country. But thanks to Polaris’ 20 years of exporting to that market, the necessary approvals were already in place.

As a result, it has had requests from third parties wanting to ship the company’s product to Japan. Polaris is considering them with some caution, not wanting to compromise its ability to supply to its Japanese distributor, he said.

“Our capacity seems to be pretty good so far. We’re literally pumping out six to eight containers of water per day out of our production facility, which is an awful lot.”

Dagenais said the company has been “really heartened” by some suppliers who are forfeiting charges on some items, including one of its trucking companies which has offered to do a run to the port for free. “Everybody wants to be contributing something.”

Perhaps most inspiring, he said, is some of the 70 Polaris staff at its plant on Bainbridge Avenue in Burnaby are donating their time to keep the production line running. The company has extended its operating hours with two shifts working a total of 16 hours a day.

“We’re already getting heavily into overtime territory and that’s going to continue and we’re prepared to absorb those costs,” he said. Meanwhile, “we’ve got middle-income factory workers willing to donate their time just so they feel they’ve contributed to the overall effort. That’s been really both unexpected and very inspiring.”

Dagenais declined to disclose the value of the recent order but noted it is absorbing higher costs due to the rushed delivery on materials and overtime costs. It has already donated about two containers of Whistler Water Company product with more expected as opportunities arise.

The water itself is coming from a glacier-fed aquifer just north of Whistler, and is being constantly transported to the Burnaby bottling plant in tanker trucks plying the Sea-to-Sky Highway.

Spring is not the company’s busiest season, Dagenais said, but the current demand is causing it to exceed its traditional summertime volume.

“It’s been a matter of mobilizing quite quickly and doing what we can because this is obviously more than just increased demand, there’s an actual humanitarian need here, so we’re motivated to get this stuff out there.”

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

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