Valser water – from the spring to the shelf
It is impossible to imagine tables in Swiss restaurants without the striking green bottles featuring the mountain relief. But how do they get there? A considerable part of their journey is on the rails. In total comfort in an RhB coach with sliding doors.
But the journey of the Valser mineral water starts a lot earlier. Because the water that bubbles out of the St. Peter’s spring in Vals first spends decades in the mountain. That is how long it trickles through rock, seeps through the ground, flows through subterranean rivers – until it comes to the surface in Vals. By then, it is highly mineralised and particularly rich in calcium.
For years, the town of Vals used its source simply to feed the thermal bath. It was not until 1961 that entrepreneurs Donald M. Hess and Dr. Robert Schrauder started bottling the water. "In the first few years, we were filling the same number of bottles in one year as we are now filling in an hour," says plant head Urs Länzlinger, smiling. Now, Valser water comes from four springs. They still belong to the town of Vals that receives a proportion of the earnings for every litre of water sold. The company uses one spring together with the thermal bath; the others are used solely for bottling natural mineral water.
The start of the success story
At the beginning of the 1960s, Hess Group AG – originally a beer brewery from Kilchberg near Bern – first sold its water through the now legendary Valser man who delivered the mineral water to the door. Since 1966, Valser Classic has been on offer in retail outlets; in 1984 the still version, Valser Naturelle, came onto the market. In 2002, the Hess Group sold Valser Wasser to Coca-Cola. Valser Wasser, with 80 employees, is now one of the largest employers in the outskirts of the canton of Graubünden, and Coca-Cola has, to date, invested more than 50 million Swiss francs in infrastructure and product innovations. There is now also an additional mineral water from a new spring, which has been available since 2010: Valser Silence is not in the mountain as long and is a lot less mineralised. "Valser Silence comes through pipes from the highest used spring in Europe at 1,800 metres above sea level into a holding tank. As it is required, we bottle the water directly," explains Urs Länzlinger. The water from the other three springs is also first delivered to a holding tank as Valser Classic and Valser Naturelle and is bottled later. Around 40 lorries leave the facility in Vals every day. They are each loaded with 24 pallets each holding 600 to 800 litres of water. That means up to a maximum of 770,000 litres of water a day. 60 to 70 per cent then goes to large distributors such as supermarkets, 30 per cent to drink outlets, restaurants and private customers.
Scheduled to coincide with RhB
The lorries leave the Valser plant dead on time to transport the pallets to Ilanz where they are loaded onto the train. The Rhaetian Railway dictates a precise timetable: up to four trains a day make their way from the Valser distribution centre in Zizers to Ilanz and back again. "There are a lot of passenger trains on that section," says Contardo Blumenthal, Product Manager for the Rhaetian Railway, "and that is why the scheduling has to be just right." In Ilanz, the lorry driver takes the lorry right up to a handling platform next to a siding. The driver takes care of handling: within just 15 to 20 minutes, he unloads the empty bottles from the coach with sliding doors and loads the full pallets onto the train. The Rhaetian Railway has 22 coaches with sliding doors reserved exclusively for Valser Wasser. "That’s around 4,500 coaches a year – and that saves around 11,000 trips by lorry," says Contardo Blumenthal. The tracks in Zizers lead directly to the distribution centre. There is space here for up to five coaches with sliding doors from which the pallets are directly loaded into the warehouse with its 9,500 bin locations. Loaded with empty bottles, the coaches then once more set off on their journey into the mountains. Contardo Blumenthal is proud of this amazing feat of logistics. And particularly of the fact that lorries and train are perfectly coordinated with one another: "We just couldn’t coordinate it in the lowlands. There are too many junctions, traffic lights and traffic jams."
In Zizers, the water is once more loaded onto lorries to be transported to the relevant buyers. But there are going to be quite a few changes at Valser Wasser by the end of the year. Rafael Hallenbarter, Customer Service & Logistics Manager Coca-Cola HBC Switzerland: "We’ll be using containers much more in the future." At the container cargo station Schnaus-Strada near Ilanz, the containers will be lifted onto the carrier wagon; then the water will continue its journey directly to the buyers from the cargo station Domat/Ems on a normal-gauge railway. Rafael Hallenbarter is convinced that this is an important step towards more sustainability: "Then our water will be taking only the first few and perhaps the last few meters of its journey on the road."