This year’s annual industry conference was held at the outstanding Crewe Hall in Cheshire. The day consisted of a host of guest speakers along with chairman of the BWCA John Dundon giving his own outlook on the industry and the future. The BWCA conference was completely different this year, for the first time suppliers and non-members of the association gained an insight into the topics discussed by the various presenters. This was reinforced by having suppliers setup in the main hall, which meant it gave people who were in attendance the chance to network and discuss products and services in more detail, with a record 157 attendees the day was a great success.
Adrian Webster started the conference with his unique motivational and inspirational speech, which resonated with everyone. Charmaine Holmes from Zenith International then gave us a snapshot of the future of the market and industry. Although only modest market growth is forecast, there is still growth in the mains fed POU market, +2% per year for the next four years. However, severe downward pressure on POU margins means that the value of the bottled water cooler market will still exceed the POU market value in 2014. Gustav Felix the Director General of the European Association, Watercoolers Europe (formerly EBWA) told the conference of the work they are doing to shape the future of the European markets. In particular Gustav and his team are working with the legislators in Brussels to ensure that POU and bottled water cooler growth in Western Europe is controlled and best practices are implemented in all European countries with the help, guidance and advice of WE (Watercooler Europe).
Another new element, which made the conference different this year, was the presentation given by Jim Dixon from the NHS. Jim gave the audience a flavor of what a major customer wants from the industry. An interesting point made by Jim was during the Q&A, he said that the NHS did not select the cheapest quote, re-affirming the BWCA theory that "it’s not all about price!" but about standards and quality of service. Richard Bright from Weber Shandwick, one of the global leaders in Public Relations then presented the communications work they are doing with local authorities, the private sector and government decision makers at Westminster, to show how the BWCA can become their "partners" when finding a hydration solution that improves the health of the nation.
He also went on to discuss how the water cooler has become symbolic to staff health and wellbeing in the workplaces of today. Jean-Marc Bolinger, MD of Eden Springs UK, addressed the debate regarding hydration and the environment. For the first time ever the industry is able to present controlled scientific data to show that the carbon emissions of mains fed and bottled water coolers are almost identical. This data has also been challenged and tested and has been proven to be robust, independent and factual. The association now intent to ensure this factual data is communicated to all local authorities and the political decision makers at Westminster via the communications channels now set up with Weber Shandwick. The last speaker of the day was Dr Colin Wilson, who reported the summary findings of the first POU hygiene report.
This report, compiled following extensive and controlled research by Dr Terrie Child, showed that where POU coolers have high usage, bacteria levels are often unacceptably high, this coupled with examples of poor installations and no sanitisations, is the result of poor training and POU coolers being installed at margins that are unsustainable. Consumers are urged to ensure they obtain their mains fed POU water coolers from a BWCA member to ensure a quality installation and regular maintenance program from an independently audited BWCA member. Guests who attended the Gala dinner were piped into the magnificent Long Gallery, in the Baronial Hall for an evening of good food and live entertainment, bringing the industry event to a happy, if late, conclusion.