Nestle closes sale of bottled water brands in North America

This Associated Press story broke earlier this week, expected but unnerving just the same.  A coalition of environmental groups that have been dealing with Nestle bottled water operations (of which Our Santa Fe River has been an active member) have been working to get this deal looked at more closely by the United States and Canadian governments as a possible national security concern, as our population faces an ever-encroaching privatization of what was once considered to be  a public resource – and that resource is dwindling across the planet.

Further, it’s not clear exactly what Nestle has sold to One Rock and Metropoulis – brand names? Physical plant? Permits?  One would think those details in a deal that affects the public so egregiously would be transparent.

Featured below is the AP story, followed by press releases by two of our sister organizations, the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, and Community Water Justice in Maine.  Thanks to Peggy Case in Michigan and Nicki Sekera in Maine for penning these.

(Comments by Mike Roth, President, OSFR)

NEW YORK (AP) (March 31, 2021)— Global food giant Nestle said Wednesday that it has completed the $4.3 billion sale of its bottled-water brands in North America to a pair of private-equity firms. One Rock Capital Partners, in partnership with Metropoulos & Co., assumed ownership of brands including Poland Spring, Deer Park, Arrowhead, Ozarka, Zephyrhills and Pure Life.

Dean Metropoulos, who led turnarounds at Hostess Brands and Pabst Brewing Co., will serve as chairman and interim CEO of the new company. The new company hopes to reinvigorate bottled water sales in the U.S., where sales growth has slowed even though the sector has seen growth every year since the 2009 recession.

Nestle’s North American water business had 27 production facilities and more than 7,000 employees. The Swiss-based company said it intends to sharpen its focus on its international premium water brands, including Perrier, S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, which were not included in the deal.

Press Release – April 1, 2021

Nestle Completes Sale of North America Bottled Water Assets to One Rock Capital Partners, LLC and Metropoulos & Co.

Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, along with groups around the country and in Canada, has been warning the public and government officials that this event was in the works. Why would we be concerned? After all, many of us have been hoping to rid our communities of Nestle water grabs for years. Perhaps the fact that they are baling out is a sign of our success. As Nestle has admitted, it is becoming more and more difficult to maximize its profits with the brands it is now throwing into the private equity market. Nestle is turning its attention to more profitable products. It sold its assets to a private equity firm with no experience in bottled water.

We ask what will become of the rather limited agreements Nestle has made with communities to at least appear to sustain the environment in which they operate and give something back to those communities. What assets do they think they have sold to a private equity firm with no ties to these communities. Certainly they have not sold the water, for, at least in Michigan and states east of the Mississippi, that water is held in the public trust and is not for sale. It is also not a commodity, but a natural resource necessary for all life. Are they selling the permits they have acquired, some of which are being contested? Are they selling the plants that put the water of our ecosystems in toxic little plastic bottles? None of this is acceptable.

We have asked state government to investigate this sale because we see it as one more step in the direction of privatizing water, turning it into a commodity traded on the stock and futures markets, and manufacturing scarcity to increase corporate profit. These two companies making the purchase have made it clear that their goal is to maximize their profit by growing their investments in a natural resource essential to life. They promise to “develop a comprehensive business plan focused on growing the enterprise and its profitability to enhance long-term value.” (News release from One Rock Capital) This is not a road to making access to clean water available to all regardless of income.

These firms not only intend to contribute to increasing the manufactured market for bottled water which Nestle so successfully created, they intend to streamline the operations to increase the profit. What does this mean for our already damaged ecosystems like Twin and Chippewa Creeks in Evart? Nestle already expanded the bottling plant in Stanwood and has been purchasing more land. We encourage the public to beware of new permit applications for further water grabs from the MuskegonRiver Watershed. We will certainly be watching and will be holding State officials accountable for opening the permitting processes to public scrutiny.

April 1, 2021

The dirty deed is done.

Global food and beverage giant Nestle just announced that it has completed the $4.3 billion sale of its bottled-water brands in North America to a pair of private-equity firms.

This deal lacks transparency about critical specifics of the sale. While Nestle’ confirmed that this transaction included all of Nestlé Waters North America’s U.S. factories, warehouses, offices and branches – the omission of its mention of land and permits raise many questions. What investments might Nestle still have in this new business arrangement?

As we know, the landowner holds the power in this equation – and the permits which allow privatizers to mine and export the local water sources our communities depend on.

While One Rock Capital and Metropoulos & Co say that their priority is to make the water brands “more profitable”, we know that means Maine residents and our natural environment will ultimately be getting an even shorter end of the stick- and poor and marginalized communities even shorter.

Now, when Nestlé (Poland Spring) says that they are good water stewards, we know this is a lie. No good steward would sell off the water commons to predatory investors to more deeply entrench the privatization of our most valuable life source.

Water is life and privatization is not protection.


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