After introducing the world to his $100 per bottle water a year and a half ago, Svalbardi chief executive Jamal Qureshi is hoping to line up investors for the company via a new reality TV program that its producers call a hybrid of “Shark Tank” and “American Idol.”
The water’s $100 price tag was met with a predictable response: critics called it “insensitive, ignorant and irresponsible,” and it was even pulled from the shelves of a local grocer in Hong Kong after an avalanche of negative online customer feedback.
But Qureshi says those who object to Svalbardi’s price tag are missing the point and he’s hoping that exposure on “The Unicorn,” a new TV show that brings entrepreneurs to the general public in search of investments, can help him get the luxury water’s message to the masses.
“We’d like to be able to pick up our growth, have more marketing resources, be on the ground a bit more,” Qureshi told Yahoo News in a telephone interview from his home in Svalbard, Norway, where he oversees Svalbardi’s operations. “Trying to do everything from way up here is a challenge, to say the least.”
The $100 price tag for the “Polar Iceberg Water: the taste of snow in air,” he says, is the culmination of a trend that’s been growing around the world for more than a decade. The community of water enthusiasts, or the “fine water sector,” is looking for “premiumization,” unique products and experiences. He points to the growing market for premium wines, chocolates, olive oil, craft beer and other everyday foods and beverages.
“This is a much more niche product and it fits into a luxury item category as much or more than it does into a bottled water category,” Qureshi said. “Most of our customers are actually very middle-class. It’s like an affordable luxury. If you’re just thinking water, that’s where people get skeptical; you wouldn’t pay that much for water.”
The so-called fine water sector is no myth. The website Finewaters.com reviews and rates the pH balance, hardness, carbonation, minerality and a number of other factors of different water offerings. Water sommeliers have also been popping up around the globe along with water-dedicated menus and specialized fine water distributors.
Viewers of “The Unicorn” will get the chance to decide whether they think luxury water is worth investing in when the show debuts this fall, said Terry Tateossian, founder of Socialfix, the marketing agency behind “The Unicorn.”
The show will also feature other business owners and entrepreneurs who will present their idea and give audience members a chance to buy equity shares in companies through crowdfunding websites such as Indiegogo.com.
“We thought it would be an interesting way to showcase this industry,” she said.
Svalbardi’s roll out so far has been incredibly divisive, Qureshi said. “Half the people we speak with are like, ‘That is the most brilliant thing I’ve ever heard,’ and half the people [say] ‘This is the worst thing I’ve ever heard.'”
He’s hoping his presentation on “The Unicorn” will bring him more of the former than the latter.