April 2002: Volume 44, Number 4
European excursion into water market shows promise, some discord
by Carlos David Mogollón, WC&P Executive Editor
Something that Ernest Hemingway wrote about Paris remains true today -- "It’s a moveable feast."
I was in France in early February at the invitation of organizers of Aqua-Expo/Thermalies, an exposition open to the general public that combined both POU/POE water treatment and the spa resort industry. My compliments to our hosts Bruno Soubiran, owner of the company organizing the event, and Vladi Kovanic, Aqua-Expo’s founder. They were very gracious. And one couldn’t ask for a better guide than Jean Morbelli, an Aqua-Expo consultant with Espace Eau Europe.
Morbelli, with Everett Wakai of the U.S. Commercial Service, escorted me and Creative Marketing columnist David Martin (see his review this issue) not only around the show but to crosstown rival events, Interclima and Ideo Bain, and to visit Christian Bernhardt, director of U.A.E. (roughly commensurate with the WQA); Culligan France director Christian Chadron; André Aschieri, a deputy minister of the Assemblée Nationale who wrote La France Toxique -- the French equivalent of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, I was told; Vincent Johanet, editor of L’Eau, L’Industrie, Les Nuisances; Pascale Peignen-Séraline, editor with HydroPlus; and Dominique Surre, publisher of L’Eau. Morbelli also scheduled some 30 interviews with different players in the water industry, including Marcel Lenglen, secretary general of FFB (the French builders federation); Gérard Laurent, president of FFB-affiliate UNCP (a French plumbers union), Jean-Marie Carton, president of CAPEB (another French plumbers union); Prof. Phillippe Hartemann, a French microbiologist with SERES; Jean-Louis Oliver, of the Académie de L’Eau; Bernard Moinier, of the European Salt Producers Association; Patrick Paris, of CSTB (the French NSF); and Philippe Paul, of Perrier Vittel France (hedging its bet with POU coolers) -- to name only a few. FFB and CAPEB were to be at Aqua-Expo, but were instead at Interclima because of a prior commitment.
We also visited two stores where water treatment equipment was sold -- Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville (BHV), a French multi-level department store with a hardware/appliance division on one floor; and Carrefour, the French equivalent of Wal-Mart. And we toured the kitchen area of an upscale employee cafeteria Morbelli’s sister runs for French telecommunications firm Prosodie that had a softener to treat its water. The meal was delicious.
The various discussions were too broad to enumerate here. Suffice it to say the French softener and RO market has grown at about a 15% annual clip since 1995, according to Bernhardt. He foresees greater future growth, crediting this to liberalization of regulations in December to allow more freedom of choice for home water treatment. John Hardy, French director of the UK’s All Pure, said growth was more in the 20-25% range in recent years. He and CUNO’s Alexander Kahlert, both Aqua-Expo exhibitors (see Ion the Industry, page 84), noted the event was very positive for them, in terms of generating leads and identifying prospective dealers. They drew more attention since Culligan, Kinetico, EcoWater, BWT/Permo-Cillit, Judo and Gruenbeck were at Interclima, which was for professionals only. Kahlert also pointed out he did over 200 pre-show mailings to attract prospects.
Still, Soubiran and Kovanic -- while dedicated to public events -- acknowledged that for Aqua-Expo to grow would require redesigning it to include a day or two exclusively for professionals, broadened advance marketing, expanded roundtables and more technical presentations for the next event, Feb. 26-March 2, 2003 (see www.aqua-expo.com). They would like it to eventually rival Pollutec or AquaTech, both run by Reed Exhibitions. To participate in the U.S. Pavilion at Aqua-Expo 2003, you can contact Everett Wakai, the trade specialist in charge of environmental technologies at the U.S. Commercial Service, U.S. Embassy, Paris, France, via email: Everett.Wakai@mail.doc.gov or consult the U.S. Commercial Service website: http://csfrance.amb-usa.fr
Meanwhile, the rift got wider at Aqua Europa, the European federation of POU/POE associations, over standards harmonization and ongoing BWT resistance to relaxing rules for automatic softener bed disinfection primarily because of concern over heterotrophic bacteria growth in the media bed. The Italians and British, led by Aqua Europa chairman Tony Frost, claim the requirement is unnecessary, not based on sound science and amounts to a de facto non-tariff trade barrier. Dominique Boucly, chairman of France’s Union des Entreprises d’Affinage de l’Eau (U.A.E.), tried to pull the U.A.E. out of Aqua Europa, but will instead himself be replaced. Boucly is also head of Permo, whose Austrian parent company BWT and its subsidiaries in other countries lead the anti-bacterial charge. With tensions mounting prior to this month’s WHO/NSF HPC Conference in Geneva, it’s unclear whether even a final determination of minimal health risk of HPCs could mend this schism at Aqua Europa, which threatens to render it increasingly irrelevant.