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Nestle looks at selling water unit

by JACK EWING THE NEW YORK TIMES | June 13, 2020 at 1:53 a.m.

Nestle is considering selling most of its bottled water operations in the United States and Canada, the company said Thursday. That business accounts for a significant share of the Swiss food giant's sales but has also drawn criticism from environmental groups.

The company generated revenue last year of $3.6 billion from American water brands it owns like Poland Spring, Deer Park and Zephyrhills, and from delivering purified water to homes and businesses. That figure does not include higher-priced import brands like Perrier, S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, which are more profitable and which Nestle intends to keep.

Nestle, the world's largest food company, has come under fire from groups that say it drains natural water supplies to bottle and sell at a profit. Environmental activists regard bottled water as inherently wasteful, at least in countries with drinkable tap water, because of the energy required to transport it to stores. Bottled water also contributes to the global glut of plastic waste.

With corporations under pressure to help fight climate change, Mark Schneider, Nestle's chief executive, has been trying to show that the company can be both sustainable and profitable. Nestle, whose brands of baby formula, ice cream, chocolate, pet food and coffee are omnipresent worldwide, has been moving into plant-based meat substitutes, promising to reduce sugar and fat content in its products, and aiming to make all of its packaging recyclable by 2025.

Nestle announced Thursday that, also by 2025, it will replenish all of the water it draws from watersheds while taking measures to offset the carbon dioxide produced by bottled water production and transport.

Schneider declined to comment on whether there were any potential buyers for the water business and noted that there were options besides an outright sale, like a partnership. Last year, Nestle sold a majority of its Herta lunch meat business in Europe to Casa Tarradellas, a Spanish company, but kept a minority stake.

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