Earlier this year we caught wind of Free Is Better, a group of four co-founders (legends) who realised paying ridiculous amounts of money for water was outdated. Based in Fitzroy, Melbourne, the new start up leverages advertising revenue to offset the cost of water production, meaning h20 from natural springs is sitting in the hands of Australians – without them having to pay a cent. It’s a great concept, and its progressive nature had us ridiculously intrigued.
We had the chance to sit down with Hwi So, one of the co-founders, and chat about their brilliant idea.
So, you’ve shunned the norm and made water free. Give us the background on refusing to conform?
Truthfully, this all started because we were complaining. Every time any of us bought a bottle of water, we felt ripped off. But let’s be honest, who hasn’t felt that way? We pay loads of money for a bottle of something that is a fundamental human right – a necessity, even. And it made us kinda angry. But more than just angry, we got inspired. We did some research, and discovered that bottled water costs more than petrol per litre – and petrol isn’t exactly cheap. We brought together the team with one goal, to fight back against the ridiculous industry by making a free bottled water brand of our own. And so, Free Is Better was born.
Tell us about all the behind the scenes stuff.
Free Is Better has four co-founders, with a team of about 12. We are based in Fitzroy, Melbourne but are active in multiple states across Australia. Our plans are to be global in the next five years. We source our water from one of the finest natural springs in Australia, located deep within the McPherson Ranges in southern Queensland.
Is this as much a social project as it is a business?
Although we are a full profit organization, we are here to solve a problem that we are all facing as a society, whether people like to admit it or not. Bottled water is a flaccid need that was created through the marketing genius of big corporations. Since the introduction of bottled water in Australia in the late 1980s, it has boomed (or tailspinned) into a $600 Million per annum industry – this is both a problem to the environment and to the consumer who believes they need to pay for accessible drinking water – especially in a developed nation like our own. We are here to show people that things can be done in a new way – in a way that is better for the environment and for us, the consumer.
If you don’t know much about us, you’re probably asking how we are offering a better solution for the environment. Free Is Better was the first bottled water company in Australia to use oxo-biodegradable materials for packaging. Our bottles are a scientific marvel. Oxo-biodegradable, 100% recyclable, and made from recycled materials from the start. It sounds simple, but it’s actually a huge innovation. And it’s all without a compromise in quality. Our bottles have awesome tensile strength, they’re leak-proof, and they quickly degrade in multiple environments (breaking down 100 times faster than regular PET bottles used around the industry). Our bottles are also BPA free.
Although, we admit this is not the final solution for us. We’re always going to be on the hunt for the most sustainable option for mother nature as we plan to be around for a long time. We are now starting to look at bottles that are plant based, using labels that are made from recycled materials, printed with soy ink, treated with beeswax to make them waterproof. It’s still in the early stages, but nonetheless we are proactively researching this during our spare time.
We are aware we may very well see environmental backlash from some. We want to acknowledge this and proactively think of environmentally friendlier alternatives for the longevity of the business. This is also something that’s important to us. However, there’s always going to be environmentalists who are misinformed about our bottles, or have unrealistic ideas about changing the consumer behaviour surrounding bottled water.
The idea is that to change the consumer behaviour, we must first change the notion that bottled water is something you should pay for. Alternatives such as tap water and reusable bottles aren’t a realistic option to compete with other beverages on store shelves, it simply does not solve the convenience problem.
We love the concept of advertising funding hydration. Comparatively, if people can run free street press, this was almost inevitable. Do you see free water becoming standard practice?
Yes, we believe Free Is Better is setting the blueprint for the future, influencing both the water and advertising industries respectively. The idea behind our business resonates so well with consumers because it just makes sense. We are offering a solution that is beneficial for all parties, so we think the real question is, why hasn’t free water become a standard practice yet?
How does a company like Free Is Better progress? We’re assuming the better your distribution channels, the more you charge for advertising?
Expanding our distribution channel is one of our goals to progress the company. For the first time ever Free Is Better is set to introduce permanent stockists all across Australia. Stocking in selected retail shops, food and beverage outlets, cafes, bars, galleries, tattoo parlours, you name it. Our plans are to duplicate this worldwide.
Simultaneously, we will also strengthen our brand and spread its awareness to progress the company. Consumer support is one of the key factors for our success and is definitely just as important as the business to business side of things.
What do you think are the biggest barriers Free Is Better are facing right now?
Challenging the status quo is not an easy task. One of the barriers we are seeing is the environmental backlash from some environmentalists as mentioned previously. Also, there are now certain institutes that are following a fad and banning bottled water completely. We see this as a small barrier but are aware that this will not affect us in the long run.
There aren’t really any barriers that can stop us. As long we continue to have the public’s support, we will always remain appealing to advertisers and stockists.
How has the public reacted to free water so far? How do you see this progressing?
The public has fallen in love with this idea. Everyone loves free stuff, especially if its something you need. We’re doing some cool stuff in the months to come – some free music events and a free water truck amongst heaps of other things. More details on this to come so stay tuned!
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