QC hopes for cold cash by bottling bergs

Corporation will harvest ice from Baffin, sell it as water in Asia



IQALUIT – Qikiqtaaluk Corp. has a cool idea: It plans to sell Nunavut’s icebergs to Japan.

The bergs would be melted, bottled, and marketed to consumers who want clean drinking water and a taste of the exotic Arctic, says Mathew Spence, QC’s venture-development manager.

Spence says the scheme will start small. By mid-October the corporation hopes to pack 17 tonnes of ice from Pangnirtung and Clyde River aboard sealift ships bound for Montreal.

There, the ice water will be poured into 17,000 bottles, which will be marketed and distributed in a bid to see if Asian consumers have a taste for such a product.

Purity is the big appeal of Nunavut’s bergs, Spence says. “This water was frozen in some cases 10,000 years ago, when there wasn’t any pollution. So what people see is a way of going back in time and getting water that doesn’t come with any contamination.”

In addition to being clean, Spence says, Nunavut’s water has the extra prestige of originating in the Arctic, which people perceive as being exotic and untainted.

But the liquid may not be to everyone’s liking – as Spence himself admits. “I personally find that it tastes… yuck. But that’s only my personal opinion. It tastes like water that runs off of a stream or whatever.”

QC – the economic development arm of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association – is responsible for providing the ice for the venture. The corporation’s partner, Pure Berg Canada Inc., will oversee the marketing and selling of the water.

The two companies have been collaborating for a year and a half. So far, they’ve sunk $105,000 into the project.

According to Pure Berg CEO Keith Windross, the expense of acquiring the water means the drink won’t be marketed to the average consumer. “It really is best to be sold as a niche product” in health-food stores in Asian nations like Japan and China.

Cashing in on ice seems natural in Nunavut. The territory may be short on some resources, but it’s big on bergs, millions of which break off of glaciers and float into Cumberland Sound and Davis Strait each summer.

Harvesting them isn’t hard. “In a community like Qikiqtarjuaq,” Spence says, “the icebergs are always in the bay there, so it’s just a matter of a couple of guys going out with a smaller vessel, towing those bergs close to the boat or onto the tidal flats, and cutting them to the size that’s needed.”

The chunks of ice would then be hauled aboard the sealift ships in nets and stowed in insulated, waterproof containers. That way, even if they melted, the ice water wouldn’t drain away.

Spence says that for this fall’s feasibility study, QC plans to hire Pangnirtung residents to harvest icebergs at a rate of $200 per tonne.

After being bottled, the water will be shipped to Asia, where it will hit store shelves in the next few months. Then, the test of market demand will begin.

If the study shows that the project has promise, a bottling plant may eventually be built in either Pangnirtung, Qikiqtarjuaq or Clyde River. Ice would be harvested and bottled year-round, and would be shipped south during the summer sealift season.

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