"This project contained just the right amount of madness for me. So I became an owner," said Terje Aunevik while examining the "raw material" for Svalbardi bottled water. In a cold storeroom at Bykaia there is 16 tons of rock-hard glacier ice fished out from Kongsfjorden this summer.
The brand name is actually written with the Icelandic letter ð, and Svalbarði is a short and well-known word the Vikings used to refer to Svalbard.
Ice to water
The concept of the business idea is collecting ice calving from glaciers in Svalbard. The ice is melted and bottled, then sold as an exclusive bottled water in a global market.
"There is an exclusive premium market for bottled water," Aunevik said. "Here the focus is on storytelling, the packaging and the profile. In this bottle one gets melted glacial ice from Svalbard and that is a marketable commodity."
Svalbardi is planning an initial batch of 10,000 bottles of water. At the moment a bottling plant is being built on the premises at Svalbard Airport.
Years of research
The man who first envisioned Svalbardi and its biggest shareholder is Jamal Qureshi. He has a Norwegian mother and a Pakistani father, and lives in New York. It all started in 2013.
"In childhood I became acquainted with Norway through summers visiting my grandmother outside Oslo," he said. "As an adult, I had the opportunity to work for Statoil in Norway for a period from 2009 to 2014. In 2013, my wife and kids took a trip home for a week and a half, and during that time I visited Svalbard. It was after that trip that the idea came up."
As a memory from the Svalbard trip he captured some water that melted under Larsbreen in a bottle.
"I took it home and gave it to my wife so she could make some tea from it," he said. "But then I started to think more about this."
The market exists
Qureshi started investigating whether there was a market for the water. It probably helps he was a market analyst by profession. He soon found out there were opportunities he could take advantage of.
"The market is divided into three segments," he said. "The first part is global and called premium water. It focuses on mineral levels, the degree of carbonation and the flavor it evokes in the food you eat. Secondly, there is a market for souvenirs. This is something natural and clean that people can take home as a memento. The whole package is beautiful and it stands out from other souvenirs. Last, but not least, there is a luxury segment. A bottle of Svalbardir works great as a gift."
Qureshi said he has seen many business concepts that deal with bottled water.
"Those who do not succeed have failed to identify the right customers," he said.
Being called crazy
Qureshi was with a delegation this summer that went out by boat to Kongsfjorden to collect glacier ice, which comes mainly from Conwaybreen, Kongsbreen and Kronebreen. They collected more than 16 tons of ice from the sea, but not just any chunk of ice was taken.
"One has to know what kind of ice to take," Qureshi said. "The ice we brought with us has been at the center of the glacier before it calved and is hard as concrete."
Is he getting any dubious reactions to his plans?
"Oh yes. Most people who hear about it the first time don't believe their ears and ask me to repeat myself. Some ask straight out if I'm crazy," he said with a laugh.
300 kroner a bottle
It's an expensive process to go out by boat and fetch ice from Kongsfjorden, then melt the ice and fill the exclusive bottles. Therefore, a bottle of Svalbardir, when it reaches stores, will cost about 300 kroner. Preliminary plans are to have to initial production of 13,000 bottles in stores before the New Year.
One might think it'd be difficult to sell 13,000 bottles of water at such as price, but Qureshi said he is getting a surprisingly positive response. At a conference for exclusive water products during the summer he came in contact with a company from South Korea that distributes products to hotels in Asia. When company representatives heard about Svalbardi, they entered into memorandum of understanding for the sale of 10.0000 bottles of Svalbardi.
"That lot is not sold yet, but the company is advertising our water on its website so we hope that the sale will go in through," Qureshi said.
May provide jobs
Whether Svalbardi will create local jobs is unclear. Once the bottling plant is completed the owners themselves will come up to Longyearbyen to thaw and put the water in bottles.
"Our contribution to the local economy so far is the purchase of some products and services," Qureshi said. "We are just at the beginning and when the ice we have is in bottles we must wait until the summer to bring in new raw material for the next production. We are feeling our way forward, but I believe that we have found the market for this. If it becomes large enough, it could generate jobs in the long term."
Translated by Mark Sabbatini.