Belly up to the bottled-water bar
Owner hopes that serving earth's "purest" water will keep it from being a fad
A WATER bar will open on Monday in Waikiki. Yes, a bar that serves water.
Now you've heard everything.
But wait, there's more. It will serve bottled ocean water from Kona ... desalinated, of course.
After a weekend of invitation-only events, Showroom MaHaLo Deep Sea Water will throw open its doors to the public at 9:30 a.m., serving the first bottled, desalinated ocean water commercially available in the United States.
It sells like hot cakes in Japan for as much as $6 a bottle.
In Waikiki, MaHaLo will sell for $2 for a 500-milliliter bottle, $4.50 for a 1.5-liter bottle and a dollar extra to have the water made into coffee or tea, "so people can try the difference of the taste," said Yutaka Ishiyama, sales and marketing manager.
Koyo USA Corp. has been shipping its bottled water to Japan for two years, selling 200,000 bottles a day.
"It is the best-selling deep-sea water on the market in Japan," he said. But the company could sell more, as its supply cannot meet demand.
By August of next year the company will boost production at its 100,000-square-foot Kona facility to 1 million bottles a day, Ishiyama said.
This will be the first time Koyo has offered its water for sale in the United States, after obtaining clearances from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which oversees regulations for bottled water.
"There are many desalinated waters available under the jurisdiction of the EPA," such as municipal water in San Diego and Miami, Ishiyama said.
The FDA and other regulatory approvals took about a year to obtain, but the water bar was always a part of the company's plan.
That, despite its amusing irony from a Japanese cultural perspective.
In Japan the traditional bar business is called "mizu shobai," or "water business," after the practice of diluting alcohol with water to stretch inventory and pad revenue. They joke about it within the company, Ishiyama said.
KIDDING ASIDE, the business plan is not so much to generate revenue from fad-frenzied water-drinkers, whether visitors or kamaaina. The flash-in-the-pan oxygen bar fad was not lost on them.
The goal, rather, is to educate the consumer about deep-sea water, Ishiyama said.
"My company president, Yasuki Takano, has no doubt of the quality of the Kona, Hawaii, deep-sea water. It happens to be one of the purest available on the earth," Ishiyama said.
The company's press materials describe the water as having been "pumped from the Water Rejuvenation Zone just off the coast of Kona ... from over 3,000 feet below the ocean's surface, beyond the reach of pollutants."
Koyo's Web site espouses the virtues of the nutrients and minerals in its bottled water. It claims the proportions, similar to those found in human blood, mean the nutrients are absorbed better by the body.
The bottles bear the seal of the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii, to prove that the product originates in Hawaii. It is an arrangement that earns royalties for NELHA.
The former executive director of NELHA, Jeff Smith, told the Associated Press last year that when Koyo first approached him about bottling sea water, he thought it was a joke.
No longer laughing, Smith left his job at NELHA last year to take a job with a Koyo competitor, Los Angeles-based Deep Sea Water International.
Issuing a lease for a bar that serves water was a first for Ted Soong, assistant property manager for the Waikiki Shopping Plaza and Waikiki Business Plaza.
"What kind of bar?" he laughed.
However, he had read about Koyo and its operations, "and I recognized the potential of it," he said.
When it was explained the 1,200 square feet was primarily to be a showroom, the plan became as clear as, well, water.
"So we were very thrilled that they'll be in the Waikiki Shopping Plaza. ... We're very happy to be working with them," Soong said.