Dunnstown’s Cottonwood Springs water bottling plant taking shape.
An Article by Alex Ford – The Courier
Passers-by will have noticed the large factory taking shape on the Old Melbourne Road near Dunnstown, in the shadow of Mount Warrenheip.
It’s the latest chapter of a story that’s been going for more than a century – much longer, if you count the volcano.
The company, Cottonwood Springs, will soon be opening a modern bottling production facility, focusing on spring water without plastic bottles.
Managing director George Tan said parent company Slade Beverages had designed the new facility with a sustainability focus – the entire factory is carbon-neutral and will be powered by solar panels on the roof.
When it opens in a couple of months, it will only have one production line but the factory will have space for four lines in total, creating about 50 jobs in paper-packaged spring water, and potentially non-dairy milks.
“Our vision for the next five or 10 years is to get rid of plastic, and not have any wastage from our manufacturing,” Mr Tan said.
“We want to keep everything as sustainable as possible, and have that renewability in the products we’re making, and carry that forward to our manufacturing line.”
The spring water is rich in minerals, he said, which is drawn from an aquifer beneath Mount Warrenheip.
As an ancient volcano – it last erupted more than a million years ago – the water has a high silica content, a useful ingredient in premium spring water.
“If you drive around Mount Warrenheip, within a couple of kilometres of the mountain, the potato farmers in the area have some of the best volcanic soil in the ground,” he said.
“That’s because of the water, it’s the minerals in the water which are really good for the soil conditions.
“Usually, silica is the type of mineral you’d find in volcanic basalt rock environment, so we can compare this to a brand like Fiji Water, or brands from Europe – that’s because they had a previously active volcano or high mineral content from the rocks.”
In the past, distilleries used this water to make whiskey – the Cottonwood Springs site was formerly Green’s Distillery during the 1850s gold rush, Mr Tan added, and there had been a number of owners before his company took over in 2013, including Carlton United Breweries for a period.
“We’d been looking for a water source for a long time, because we needed a lot of spring water for our drinks – soft drinks, energy drinks, juices,” he explained.
“We thought this would be a good facility for us to expand our range, and our factory, and since then, we have only been producing bottled water up at that site – we market it as bottled water from Mount Warrenheip.
“This (new factory) had been in the planning for a long time, about a year and a half ago we decided we wanted a new facility to grow the business and do more than just water.”
The state government also committed $50,000 to the project in 2016.
The new facility will include space for visitors and school tours to explore as well, he added.
“We want to teach them about the life cycle of a beverage product, and how we can be green in every single cycle, and how everything we do in this premises is about a circular loop so we don’t contaminate the environment and reuse everything we possibly can,” he said.
“It’s about two months away from finishing, we’re spending a few months finishing the car parks, and the office.”
Mr Tan said the company was aiming for a 50-50 mix on domestic sales and international export, but noted the coronavirus pandemic had presented a challenge, particularly as non-dairy milk, like almond or soy milk, became more popular in hospitality businesses.
“A lot of businesses are suffering, and even for us, it came at a time when we decided we were already halfway through, so we were going to make it happen,” he said.
“Cafes being closed affected drink sales, but we knew we needed to be continuing our effort.
“We’ll still continue to finish off the building and take on that risk, but in the next three to five years, that future will be much more promising – people still need to drink, and we think the beverage market is going to recover quickly.”