Premium bottled water brand Waiakea is responding to allegations that the company misrepresented the sourcing of its “Hawaiian Volcanic Water.”
On Tuesday the Hawaii Tribune Herald reported on complaints received by the California Department of Public Health (DPH) — Waiakea is based in Los Angeles — and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which alleged the company’s water, which is marketed and sold as premium, naturally alkaline water sourced from an artesian aquifer, is in fact tap water available to all county residents in Hilo, Hawaii.
The Herald confirmed with the county’s Department of Water Supply that Waiakea purchases its water from the county’s Pahoa water system, pumping between 1,000 and 2,000 gallons per day at a standpipe location located on Highway 130 in Hawaii. Kawika Uyehara, deputy manager for the department, revealed the company pays a bi-monthly standpipe charge of $29, a meter charge of $216 and $1.80 per 1,000 gallons of water pumped. Waiakea retails for $3.29 per 1L bottle.
California’s Department of Public Health did not comment on the status of the complaint, citing an ongoing investigation, but confirmed to the publication that it involved “issues such as labeling and source water requirements associated with Waiakea.”
Reached by phone Thursday, Waiakea founder and CEO Ryan Emmons called the complaints “slander” coming from a competing brand, and that the company resolved the aforementioned labeling issues with the agencies earlier this year.
“Our current source is right on the border of the Keauu Aquifer and Pahoa Aquifer and we had it labeled as the Keauu Aquifer,” said Emmons. “When we were contacted [by the DPH] and looked at the aquifer geography and boundaries again, we immediately changed our labels.”
The complaints, Emmons said, resulted in audits from the DPH and the FDA, which led to Waiakea changing its labels reading “artesian” to “from a community water source.” FDA regulations require bottled water sourced from a municipal source to state such on its label.
“We’ve been very open about Waiakea being labeled as a community water source ever since we switched our source,” Emmons added, stating that the company’s water source is not the direct source for Hilo county. “That doesn’t at all undermine the quality of the source.”
Waiakea opened a new round of investment at the top of 2016 after reporting 2015 as the company’s most successful year to date, moving beyond its base in the natural and specialty channel. The company recently expanded its distribution into new retailers including Whole Foods, Wawa, Haggen, Meijer and Farm Fresh, among others.