By Ted Booker Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.
Margaret W. Finen said she believes leftover water from the production of maple syrup will turn a sweet profit.
The 45-year-old Norwood entrepreneur said her startup business, Tree H20, plans to start bottling water sourced from maple trees this fall; it will be sold at high-end restaurants and grocery stores.
"It's pure, cleanses the palate and can be sold with wines, spices and cheeses," said Mrs. Finen of the water, The water is the byproduct of sap that flows into the sugarhouse of her 56-acre maple operation in Norwood. She co-owns the maple farm with husband James J.
Mrs. Finen said Tree H20's water will be packaged in standard-sized glass bottles with corks at Coyote Moon Vineyards in Clayton, which is owned by Philip J. Randazzo. Though no business partnership has been established yet, she said she plans to jointly operate the business with Mr. Randazzo.
The business is expected to soon obtain approval to operate from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, Mrs. Finen said. She said that about 4,000 gallons of water from the maple farm are being held in tanks at Coyote Moon -- enough to package up to 15,000 bottles this year. The retail price will be $6 per bottle; the wholesale price will be $3.95.
"We hope to get approval in the next two weeks to start bottling in September," she said, adding that she has spent the past six months testing and developing the product. To meet state requirements, she said, the water has been tested by Converse Laboratories of Watertown and a Boston laboratory.
Mrs. Finen said that staff at the Shipley Center for Innovation at Clarkson University, Potsdam, helped develop her business plan. She said she believes Tree H20's water -- which has no additives or preservatives -- will have demand among high-end restaurants and grocery stores.
Mrs. Finen said she began thinking about starting her business about five years ago, when the couple launched their maple operation.
"I watched the process for the first time and asked: 'If all of this water is pure, why are you getting rid of it?'" she said.
The Finens -- who work 3,000 taps at their sugarbush operation and use sap from another 1,000 taps at a nearby property -- plan to use most of the leftover water from production for Tree H20, Mrs. Finen said.
"The water is taken prior to the production of syrup. When the sap comes through, we run it through a reverse osmosis system and pull 75 percent of the water out," she said, adding that the about 70,000 gallons of such water is produced during maple season. She said the water will be trucked to Coyote Moon for bottling.
As the business expands, Mrs. Finen said, she plans to partner with other area maple producers who wish to sell their water leftover from production. Her business plan calls for rapidly expanding production to 10,000 gallons in 2016, 50,000 in 2017 and 100,000 in 2018.
"We want to try to at least double our production every year," she said, adding that the business would launch a bottling plant if there is enough demand.
Initially, she said, the glass bottles will be enclosed with corks bought from Germany. She plans to eventually use screw-top caps for the bottles, however, which would be more convenient for on-the-go consumers.
To do that, Mrs. Finen said, she will need to acquire funding to buy a capping machine. She said she has submitted a consolidated funding application for state grant funding toward the purchase of the machine, which is expected to cost about $50,000.
"We're going to bottle with corks this year, and we hope the grant will come through for January of next year," she said, adding that the business might use a combination of corks and caps to bottle its water.
Mr. Randazzo, meanwhile, said that he is optimistic that Mrs. Finen's business plan will be successful. He said tanks used for wine production can also be used for the production of Tree H20's water. He said the water goes through reverse-osmosis filters and is treated with ozone gas before it's stored in stainless steel tanks at 41 degrees.
"This is a big help for us to use the equipment for other reasons, because it's not used continuously all year," he said.
Mr. Randazzo said the bottled water, which made its debut in June at the Great New York State Food and Wine Festival in Clayton, has already created a buzz among several area restaurants.
"Trees are God's natural filter, and you can't ask for anything better than that," he said. "We want to do anything we can to help maple farmers get additional use of their byproduct."