As a business, we’re always looking for new ways to reduce single use plastics. As a motorway services operator, we have a responsibility to think innovatively about our place in the fight against plastic, to shift consumer behaviour to a more sustainable approach. We’ve recently removed plastic bags in favour of paper bags in our Farmshops, another step in us reducing our use of plastic.
Opportunities to find another way come in all forms. We were approached by Marlish, another Family company like us, who were launching their unique still spring water in cans, as an alternative to on the go water packaging. Our colleagues Donna and Lucien took a trip over to Northumberland to find out more and meet the team at Marlish.
“My name is Joe Evans. We’re based in mid Northumberland. We developed a spring water and soft drinks company here about four and a half years ago. Marlish is the name our family farm.
The source of our water are the Cheviots, the North Cheviots, in Northumberland. Some of the north Pennines falls into our catchment area here as well. So the water falls as rain on these hills, then it takes about 150 years to filter down through the different layers or rock, and it reaches an aquifer which sites underneath the farm. So as it passes through all these different layers of rock, it picks up its mineralisation and taste from the rock that it passes, but it also filters out any nasty bacteria.
The unique thing about us is our water. What makes the water unique is the rock strata. It’s what the water passes through to get to us, so there’s a different make up of rock – ours is made up of limestone and millstone grit. The water passing picks up the minerals, which is what gives it the uniqueness. Northumberland, like Cumbria, is such a pure and natural place, it’s really quite untouched. It’s really that purity that that we’re trying to get across in the brand. We think it tastes great!
My cousin Elizabeth, who owns Marlish Farm, she put a well 90 metres deep on to the farm, to feed all the animals a few years back. Elizabeth she was a teacher. She used to bring some of her class out to her farm and teach them about the countryside, she was teaching in the centre of Newcastle, a lot of these kids hadn’t seen animals before out in the countryside. The other teachers in the school thought it was a fantastic idea, and asked if they could do that too. She then realised she had a business there, so she developed that to a point that she had tens of thousands of kids a year coming to the farm as a big visitors centre, to teach the kids about the countryside, about stewardship, about animals and welfare, and how to look after the countryside.
Unfortunately, Foot and Mouth hit in 2001, and all the animals had to go. So that was the end of that era, and that business.
Then I came to Elizabeth with the idea of doing the bottled water as another farm diversification project, so that we could stay here and live here and still have an enterprise on the farm. One of the most important and fundamental things for us is the sustainability of the business, in that the product itself has to be as sustainable as possible. We want to be here for a long time, and we want to be doing this for a long time, so we want to make sure we are looking after the resources and the land, so we do everything we can to make it as sustainable as possible.
Elizabeth has planted over 6000 trees, over the last 5 years, so we can develop a sustainable fuel source for all the processing equipment and things in the factory, the cleaning equipment and the heating. We’ve got a solar tracker, which provides the power for the lights and elements of the heating in the factory as well.
And then we had the idea for the aluminium cans.
We were looking for a sustainable alternative to single use plastic bottles. So glass is great, glass is a massive part of our business, but it’s not suitable everywhere we go. We needed something that would be a more suitable package for on the go consumption. We had a number of friends who were in the craft brewing industry, who were starting to move all their products into cans as a packaging format, away from glass, and we wondered why they were doing it.
So we started to research into it, we went to speak to Crown Packaging, based in Carlisle, our can manufacturer, and we spoke to them about what the advantages are of using aluminium as a packaging format. We had our eyes opened. Aluminium is 100% recyclable, it doesn’t lose any material in the recycling process, so 100% of what you put in you get out, you put in a can in you get a can out. The fundamental thing that twigged for us, was the fact the aluminium is more expensive than plastic, and that means it has a higher intrinsic value, so within every point on the supply chain, someone makes money, from the sale of that commodity. So recycled aluminium is a lot cheaper than primary aluminium, it make it a lot easier to recycle than plastic. Recycled PET is a bit more expensive than primary plastic, which is why the market hasn’t really switched over to that.
So we took the plunge, we invested in the factory to allow us to can water, and we launched it in May this year.
We were the first spring water company in the UK to can at source our water.
We’re really quite lucky in that we have this fantastic water source, and we want to do everything we can protect that, and protect the purity of it, so we built a factory on the farm, so we can take the water from the ground and put it into its package it, bottles, or cans that we’re doing now. Everything we do is handmade and packaged at source on the farm, which is fundamental to the brand and the sustainability of the business.
We’re a small family company. We’re not trying to take over the world, we just want to make drinks that we enjoy ourselves, and hope that other people enjoy, that are really good for you and sustainable.”
You can find Marlish’s range of canned spring water drinks in our Farmshops now.