An entrepreneur has said he plans to save Britain's most exclusive brand of spring water from drying up.
Bottles of Malvern Water, the Queen's favourite refreshment, were expected to disappear from shop shelves forever after its present owner, Coca-Cola, announced the 108-year-old bottling plant in Herefordshire would be closing this month.
But William Chase, the millionaire entrepreneur behind Tyrrells Potato Chips and Chase vodka, said yesterday that he hopes to buy the brand and is confident he can turn the business around. "It's a good example of a fantastic brand that's been corporatised and killed by the big guys," Mr Chase said. "It needs reinventing. It's got its pedigree, it's got its heritage, it just needs to be made a bit more sexy again."
The history of Malvern Water is a long and illustrious one. Elizabeth I apparently favoured its purported medicinal qualities, and it was first bottled for sale during the reign of her successor, James I.
Its reputation was sealed in the Victorian era when Schweppes used it to supply the Great Exhibition of 1851, while Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Florence Nightingale and Alfred, Lord Tennyson travelled to sample it directly from the Hayslad spring.
Despite the present Queen taking bottles of Malvern with her on overseas visits, Coca-Cola said in October that the plant in the village of Colwall was no longer economically viable.
A spokesman for the company, which has owned the brand since 1987, said: "Modern bottled water plants are around 10 times the size of Colwall and can often produce more water in a day than we do in a month. Malvern has only ever had 1 per cent of total bottled water sales in the UK in the past 10 years, despite the company's best efforts to change that. Over the past five years, we have placed Malvern in our vending machines in UK airports, pursued new contracts and invested in the Colwall plant. But we simply can't change the size of the plant, or extract the volume of water needed, for Malvern to compete in today's highly competitive bottled water sector."
However, Mr Chase, who intends to bottle the water at his nearby distillery, said he did not believe the small-scale operation would be a problem and hoped to announce confirmation of the sale he is currently negotiating within a week. "I just think it needs better marketing, really," he said. "It's obviously not a mass-market product, it's not as torrential as any of these other waters. It's a very exclusive, smart brand with a pedigree and that's where they've lost it; really, it's been cheapened.
"It's been taken to the wrong market, and if it's taken to the right market it doesn't need to produce any more. That's what makes it unique – if they could produce a billion bottles it wouldn't be worth the money it is."