Ozone Beverages: Water Treatment Systems and Purified Drinking Water in Kenya

Jigna Patel shares her assessment of the water treatment systems and purified drinking water sector and presents Ozone Beverages, a company established in Kenya in 2016. She also discusses international reach and shares her vision for the development of the company in the medium term.

Interview with Jigna Patel, Director of Ozone Beverages Ltd

Jigna Patel, Director of Ozone Beverages Ltd

What is your assessment of the sector?

In Africa, there is a big market for new technology to come in. If you look at the globe, where people are going and where people have reached, in terms of where Africa is now, there are still a lot of opportunities coming up for technologies like upgrading lives and hygiene. For now, we really have space to play and come up with something new. Now, the people using the packaged drinking water are still more than those who buy the domestic RO. In other countries, they always put in their own machines for purified water which is cheaper in a way. The market for those is very big here. In other industries for example, NEMA is not coming up with solutions to problems, only the issues. So, there is no one coming up with solutions on the technology side for water treatments or wastewater systems to dispose of water that might contain chemicals. There are problems, but they are still lacking solutions on the technology side. This leaves a very big opportunity for us to come in.

What is your competitive advantage?

Because I am from a place where the competition has really taken us to a level where you have to compete to give something better, I am already upgrading here and competition is not really a big challenge for us.

In Kenya, people are importing more. There are few companies that produce locally. When you produce something locally, of course, the cost of the product goes down which is good for those manufacturing here. You become more of a label and more reachable to the people. For us, it equals out. When you give local services, people are more comfortable with you which gives us an added advantage. If I were to import machines for a distilled water plant, I could google companies who will give me distilled water plants and the cost to let here. Plus, the people coming to fix it might be staying here for a month, which is expenses added. If I can instead find someone making this here, it is easier for me to reach them, the cost is less, and it is easier to solve maintenance issues. I am more comfortable because our label is mostly local and that makes a difference.

Is the sector very competitive in Africa?

Competition is only with those who are there right now. But the portions are very small. Where I come from, the competition is on a different level. In one sector, India could have thousands of companies offering the same services. Here, there are still companies which have not seen the competition so they are just doing the same things they have been doing for the last 20 years. They have not upgraded themselves. Because I am from a place where the competition has really taken us to a level where you have to compete to give something better, I am already upgrading here and competition is not really a big challenge for us.

What is your international reach? What projects have you done outside of Kenya?

We have one in Lagos, Lusaka, Tanzania, and South Africa. We supply treatment systems. Our project in Tanzania is a sea water RO producing around 10,000 liters per hour. We have given an oil company in Lusaka a purification plant for the water they are using for manufacturing.

What is your appetite to grow and work throughout Africa? Are you able to work anywhere in the continent?

Yes. If I have an opportunity to sell a machine in South Africa or Ghana or Dar es Salaam, the way we work is very easy with payments systems. Everything does not come on us. The precautions taken for payments on the finance side are very good. Our technology is endless so we are not limited with our size for selling things. The challenge is to get the right people to do the selling. If a customer is used to drinking water a certain way, we have to explain to them why they should upgrade now. That is where you put more of your efforts. It is a bit expensive, but after that little expense, you are getting something better for future generations. For example, on the machinery side, we never thought that we could purify seawater to drinking water, but to explain to them that it can produce the same quality water as city council water is challenging. Once they get onboard, they really support your ideas. They are also on with our payment system so it is not challenging then to worry about investing in a plant of that size or expense.

On the commercial side, what products do you sell?

Here, we sell purified drinking water. Up until now, we have been using PET bottles. More global groups like the WHO and the World Bank are coming for meetings in hotels and we now do room water for hotels and conference water. When the World Bank comes for a conference, they are not happy using PET because it is not good for people and global warming in the long run. So, they choose hotels that are environmentally friendly. Water is water, but producing plastic waste through the packaging is not good. We support hotels with glass bottles now. We have started supplying a few conferences and we are looking to grow on this. It is not necessarily cheaper or more profitable or better to package. Handling takes time and has costs associated with it such as breakages. But we do not want to be selfish and we want to be more environmentally friendly.

Is it easy to be accepted in Africa? What challenges do you face?

In technology, the people we deal with in Africa are very open. If you give them something new, they are interested. The economy in Africa is detail oriented. There are people that can afford things, but they have no knowledge of the technology side and how it is moving. For example, with the bottles here, they have an open mind to accept new technology and ideas. Expense is the main challenge. There are two markets: one is industry, such as B2B and hotels, and then there is another market for those who are the end user or the consumer. There are not many challenges for B2B and hotel because you can see that they are doing business. They will make that money anyway from whatever product they are pushing. What is coming from the consumer is another challenge. The economy in Kenya is a little unstable and I would not say that it is very friendly to the consumer. The purchasing power people have is not very high and employment is not growing at speed. Products are becoming expensive because of taxes and PET bans, etc. On this side, the government’s intervention comes in to add price to the product, but the consumers’ pockets are not growing, the employment is not growing, and the purchasing power is not growing. Consumers are really suffering. For me to come up with some technology is like giving them an extra expense which is not possible for them. They do not have the capacity to spend.

Project yourself into the medium term, three years’ time. What is your vision for the development of the company?

We want to add more products to the company. We will diversify. In just 8 months, we have diversified purified drinking water packaging to machinery. It is one compact solution for water and we will continue growing in that sector. We want to expand into all of Africa. In three years, we want to have a minimum of 500 plants throughout Africa.


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