Drink up — and save 5,000 livesHumankind water uses all profits to provide safe drinking water
This day, 5,000 children will die in the world for no other reason than the lack of access to clean water.
When T.J. Foltz learned this, he discussed it with several youth pastors and worship leaders he knew as part of his youth minister work. After much prayer, the vision of Humankind bottled water was formed.
The plan was to start a company and donate 100 percent of the net profits to dig wells, install filtrations systems or repair existing wells in parts of the world where people don’t have access to clean water.
Foltz told his story to residents in the region recently when he visited DNA Church in Asheville and Long's Chapel in Clyde.
The company, which was formed as a social enterprise in 2011, experienced a meteoric rise to fame not just because of its mission, but because of the "Get on the Shelf" contest by Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
“There were 4,300 products entered in every category under the sun,” Foltz said.
With the help of a team lovingly called the "Geeks," the Humankind water message went viral, and against all odds, won the WalMart contest.
“We got more votes than any of the other 4,300 products,” he said. “They never told us how many votes we had, but we figured out a way to measure the number of You Tube video views and monitored the competition. Other products that had more views, but no other product had more votes.”
A key to success was reminding people to vote daily, and showing the faithful followers how they could vote once on Facebook and once through a text.
“I think we won pretty handlily, even though some of the other companies put a lot more money into it,” Foltz said. “I know the second-place winner spent hundreds of thousands on the campaign. We spent $5,000.”
The WalMart contest was announced in January 2012, just several months after the first bottles of Humankind water hit the selves in select areas. Humankind didn't enter until March, and was declared the winner in late May. By October, 2012, a year after the effort started, HumanKind water was on the WalMart shelves in the midAtlantic area. As the story of the water gets out, it has been relatively easy to expand nationwide.
The product has been picked up by Krogers' largest convenience story subsidiary — Turkey Hill — and the goal is to get into Krogers as well. Humankind water sells for $1 a bottle in WalMart and $1.79 in the convenience stores. He estimates about one-third the cost for each bottle is in production, the retailer takes one-third and one-third comes back to the company where it is donated for the larger cause.
The company has very few employees, but operates with many volunteers passionate about the cause.
While the water itself is spring water that is on par with the other major brand names, it is the story that drives consumers to the Humankind brand.
"If we get 90 seconds of radio time, which is an eternity, to tell our story, we don't even get into the water. It's what the water does," Foltz said. "I'd guess 98 percent of those buying Humankind water are doing it for what it does. The profit from one bottle is enough to provide a person with clean drinking water for an entire year."
It is estimated nearly 1 billion people on the planet lack access to safe drinking water. That’s one person in seven, according to the Humankind website. Half of the hospital beds in the world are filled with someone either sick or dying from lack of clean water or sanitation.
Making a difference
The way Humankind water touches so many lives — it is already approaching the milestone of providing 500,000 people years of water by being on shelves in just a few states — is to focus on providing water in high population areas.
"The price of a well is fixed, so we go into huge communities to force the per person costs down," Foltz said. "We say that out of all the bottled waters sold in the world, we're the only one that wants to go out of business."
Numerous nonprofit groups, upon learning the story behind Humankind, buy entire pallets of water, show images of children without clean drinking water, and raise funds not only for their own project, but to help make a difference globally as well.
"Once they know the story and make a buying decision, it is no contest," Foltz said. "Our challenge is getting he word out there. We spend so much on wells and filters, and very little to advertise."
Still, there's story after story about event organizers, groups and businesses that will make the conscious decision to opt for Humankind water over other choices.
"When we start to edge out Coke and Pepsi, we’re starting to move the needle," Foltz said, noting that has happened in select events.
Foltz said he had been warned that becoming too successful could bring down the wrath of major companies in the drink industry that would crush sales of the product. It was advice Foltz ignored.
"How would Coke or Pepsi crush us?" he asked. "They can't crush the organization that does nothing but give drinking water to dying children."
So far, Humankind has provided wells in Haiti, Haiti, Malawi, Uganda and India, will soon open wells in the Dominican Republic, Kenya and has made inroads into South Africa.
A simultaneous focus is making Humankind water a household name across the nation so the company can have an even larger impact.
"People smarter than me who have studied philanthropy say this truly one of the 10 major world crises, but that is is one we could see an end to in our lifetime because there is no new technology needed."
When the idea of saving lives by selling water was first considered, it sounded ridiculous, Foltz admitted.
"But then we asked why it would be impossible. The top-selling brands of bottled water bring in $1 billion a year. We estimate it would cost $8-$10 billion to wipe out the drinking water crisis. I don’t believe in impossible," Foltz said. "This is a faith-based issue. I believe in the power of prayer. The chances of us winning the (WalMart) contest were actually less than 1 in 4,300. For us to have won that, what kinds of odds can be against us.?"
Humankind water isn't available in Western North Carolina — yet. Foltz said that can change if people ask retailers in the region to begin carrying it.
For more information, visit humankindwater.org.