Parmalat, the Italian dairy company, has had a day of ups and downs. On the up side, it has opened its first bottled water business in Canada under the Eaux Vives Harricana (EVH) name; on the down side, it has been forced to take legal proceedings against another Canadian company, Agrinove, which it has accused of copying its packaging.
EVH is the newest company to join the Parmalat fold and was created specifically to bottle and market Esker brand natural water drawn directly from the Saint-Mathieu esker (a geological formation dating from the Ice Age) in Quebec.
"Parmalat has been wanting to break into the bottled water industry since the mid-90s. After searching the world over for different opportunities, Saint- Mathieu d'Harricana finally gave us what we had been looking for: exceptionally pure spring water," said Michael Rosicki, president and CEO of Parmalat North America.
"Our goal is to have Esker rank among the 13 leading brands of bottled water in the world in the next three years,"Rosicki added. Esker is already available in Abitibi, the region of Quebec in which the source is located, and will be available in major cities throughout Quebec and Ontario starting mid-October, extending to the US by the end of next month. It will soon also be added to the Asian market, but Parmalat gave no indication as to when, or indeed if, the water will be available in Europe.
"We are proud to offer the only bottled water from an esker. The Esker brand is like no other. The water, naturally filtered by the esker, is bottled with no processing or handling whatsoever. We add nothing and we remove nothing. The water is low in minerals and its pH is exactly that of the human body,"said Ghislain Gauthier, EVH vice-president of marketing.
An esker is a rare geological formation left behind by the Ice Age, when rivers of melting glacial ice deposited a formation of rock and sand. The heaviest boulders formed the base while finely crushed rocks and near-microscopic sand were layered above. This natural filter allows only the melting snow and rainwater from above to flow deep underground through its central core.
It is this water which is bottled at the EVH plant in plastic bottles which are manufactured on site. The 14,000 square metre bottling plant has a fully integrated high-tech bottling process that can fill 50,000 bottles an hour on two bottling lines, and its construction was partially funded by the Quebec authorities.
Elsewhere, the news is less encouraging, however. On the same day that Parmalat opened its new bottling plant, it also began legal proceedings against Agrinove after the two companies failed to reach an out-of-court agreement.
Parmalat contends that Agrinove's new packaging design for its Grand Pre brand of milk products, launched in early August, is a copy of its own Lactantia brand, which has been sold throughout Canada for many years.
"We at Parmalat take great pride in our company's distinctive Lactantia brand imagery and other intellectual property which serve to reinforce the strong reputation and trust that we have earned by providing high quality milk and cream products in the Province of Quebec and elsewhere in Canada for many years," the company said in a statement.
"When Agrinove launched new packaging for its line of milk and cream products in August of this year, Parmalat immediately advised Agrinove of the close similarities between the new packaging and the packaging used in association with Lactantia's own line of milk and cream products. In particular, we advised Agrinove that its new packaging too closely resembled Lactantia's package designs which Canadian consumers have come to associate with milk and cream produced by Lactantia."
Parmalat said that it had hoped to resolve the matter of Agrinove's alleged infringement of Lactantia's copyright in a "less litigious manner" but the failure of the Canadian company to respond to its complaint had left it "with no alternative but to take this matter to the courts in order to protect the considerable investment we have made in our Lactantia brand".
Agrinove is yet to respond to the legal action.