Capitalising on soaring temperatures as summer beckons, enterprising vendors are making a killing through the sale of bottled water, traditionally a preserve of established supermarkets and food courts.
REPORT BY PHILLIP CHIDAVAENZI SENIOR FEATURES WRITER
The range of bottled water is diverse, including spring, mineral, purified and carbonated water.
For Peter Munemo, a vendor who has no fixed station, adding water to his list of merchandise has proved to be a jackpot.
“Who doesn’t need water? We all do so. It sells fast,” says Munemo who has traditionally sold fruits.
“I have temporarily stopped selling fruits to concentrate on vending water.”
Although most shops sell a 500ml bottle of purified water at an average price of 50 cents, some sell it for lower at 40 cents.
Other preferred brands, however, can sell for as much as 60 cents.
“I usually buy water for around 22 cents per bottle and sell it for 50 cents,” Munemo adds. “I have been doing this for three weeks and the business is good.”
On average, Munemo sells between 50 and 60 bottles of purified water per day and rakes in $25 to $30. He says when there are football matches during weekends, the price goes up to as much as $1 for a single water bottle.
Another water vendor Mirirayi Chiwaya says the high temperatures are a godsend for her. She says there is a high demand for bottled water and this has turned profitable.
“For a long time we did not appreciate that there was much money in selling water. I just used to sell juices. But while some people don’t like juices, everybody needs water, so it is selling fast,” she says.
Most people have lost faith in the quality of water provided by local authorities and this has spurred the boom for water bottlers in the country.
Bottled water is often preferred to tap water.
But bottled water itself has not been without controversy, especially after reports that the majority of bottled water companies, manufacturers and importers are not registered.
The government has issued a warning that all bottled water brands not registered will be removed from shelves and destroyed. Bottlers require certification from the Food Standards Advisory Board (FSAB) and the Health secretary.
Early this year, FSAB said all water bottling companies, manufacturers and importers must comply with Statutory Instrument 263 of 2002 Food and Foods Standards (natural mineral water and bottled drinking water) Regulations.
“Food inspectors will randomly pick water samples from shops and hotels for testing,” the statement said. This followed concerns by water consumers after a report that most bottlers were not registered with the Standards Association of Zimbabwe.
Last year the government banned 40 water bottling firms for failing to meet safety and quality standards. This followed an influx of unregulated bottled water suppliers in response to a surge in demand.
Zanu PF MP Simbaneuta Mudarikwa has called on the government to urgently intervene and regulate the price of bottled mineral water, which he said was overpriced.
“How can you have a country where mineral water costs more than diesel or petrol and yet water is readily available?” Mudarikwa asked.
He says it does not make sense when purified water costs $2 per litre while diesel costs $1,48 per litre and adds that the country should seriously look at such situations as water is a basic need.
Frederick Gwaze, another water trader, says although he has struck gold in his new-found business, there is still an untapped market.
“I have noticed that a lot of people don’t like drinking water, which is not good.
“They would prefer juices and fizzy drinks, but during summer, many people are affected by de-hydration. Water is important,” he says.
Although he is aware that some water bottlers have been banned by the government, he is not checking carefully the sources of the water.
“I hardly bother myself with that,” he chuckles. “All I know is that people want water and I am here to provide it. If I can get it from a shop, I can also sell it at a profit. It’s business.”
There are widespread fears that some companies could be bottling tap water and offering it as purified product. Most people in urban areas are now buying bottled water for drinking purposes because tap water by local authorities is widely believed not to be safe for human consumption.
Major cities in the country have been facing intermittent water problems with Harare and its satellite towns of Ruwa, Chitungwiza, Norton and Epworth failing to provide adequate water.
It is against this backdrop that a significant number of urbanites are now turning to bottled water, creating demand that has spurred the increase in the number of bottling companies.