By Ian Williams
Locals at Warooka on the Yorke Peninsula have always known that water on Old Lime Kiln Farm tastes out of this world.
It’s so good in fact that nine years ago Riverland dairy farmer Nick Selfe made one of those crazy spur-of-the-moment, sea-change decisions. He bought the property so he could bottle the stuff.
There have been some tough times since but the hard work is now paying big dividends with PH8 water cracking the lucrative Asian markets.
Nick’s brother Phil and partner Kym Dickeson, the managing director, took over the business in 2010 and sales have gone from a trickle to about one million bottles a year.
“It’s so exciting with so much genuine stuff now happening all at once,” said Kym. “Three companies in China are importing containers of our water, it’s being sold in Singapore and we’re finalising a distributor in South Korea.”
With the current high level of overseas interest, Kym estimates that within a year exports will jump from five per cent to 50 per cent of total sales.
“One of our Chinese distributors is designing a new bottle label to suit high-end consumers in their very competitive water market,” he said.
It’s probably fitting that China is showing so much interest because it was Chinese workers operating the old lime kiln 130 years ago who discovered the unique qualities of the water.
Geological testing has identified the reason. The property is covered by black limestone laid down about one billion years ago which filters rainwater as it settles into a large aquifer.
The process takes about 12-14 months during which time the water picks up various trace minerals and a naturally high alkaline level with a pH of 8.3.
Testing shows that the water is packed with various electrolyte minerals and antioxidants which have reported health benefits. They include potassium, magnesium, sodium, calcium, bicarbonate, selenium and silica.
Kym said such benefits coupled with the fact that the high alkalinity is meant to assist faster hydration has made PH8 popular with elite athletes, including various AFL footballers, tennis players and boxers.
Now the business partners are looking at expansion. They have built a bottling plant at Warooka, about three kilometres from the aquifer, and currently employ about 10 people in manufacturing and marketing.
They are planning to expand the factory to keep up with the increase in sales and also add plastic extrusion equipment to make their own bottles.