MACKAY — When more than 150,000 people gathered in August for a music festival in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, many thirsty concertgoers got a taste of Idaho — Mackay, Idaho, specifically.
The Outside Lands Music Festival partnered with Proud Source Water to provide bottled water from Mackay Springs. While the pure, tasty Idaho water was great, the “zero-waste” music festival was also drawn to Proud Source’s infinitely recyclable aluminum bottles.
“It’s been received very well,” said Andrew Piron, chief operating officer for Proud Source Water of the bottled water company operating in the tiny town of Mackay. “I think the combination of the quality of the water and the sustainable materials by which we package have really been most impactful, and of course the story of our brand.”
The story of Proud Source starts with a few Mackay natives wanting to create a business that would allow them to stay in the town. Mackay’s population hovers at 500 and has few businesses to keep families in the town. Bottling Mackay Springs water, the same water used by the town, seemed to be a good business idea. The brand was launched in 2017 at the Boise’s Treefort Music Festival.
“We looked really hard at the end of life material from a recycling standpoint,” Piron said. “What would be the best materials to use if we approach this brand with the intent of being super transparent, do good, give back and be as sustainable as we can be. We arrived at aluminum which is the No. 1 recycled material in the United States.”
It helps the company’s cause when earlier this month a few congressmen announced a push to ban single-use plastic water bottles in national park facilities. The San Francisco International Airport banned single-use plastic water bottles last month and recommended reusable bottles or water sold in aluminum such as Proud Source water.
From purposely slow beginnings three years ago, Proud Source is now sold in 45 states, 10,000 retail locations and Canada, Mexico and China. A 12 pack of 16-ounce bottles sells for about $24 online.
The small company provides several jobs to Mackay residents and hopes to grow more.
Plant manager Kelvin Krosch, a sixth-generation Mackay resident, says the business is doing what he hoped: Giving jobs to locals.
“We have seven full-time and three part-time workers,” Krosch said. “It’s getting busier. I expect to add a second shift in January which will mean four to five more jobs. We hope to add a third shift in the fall of 2020. Every one of these guys was born and raised here in Mackay. Our goal is 15 jobs here at the plant, we’re halfway there.”
Krosch said he and his wife, who oversees customer service and quality control, try to give back to the community. He coaches high school basketball and a kids T-ball team and she coaches the school cheerleader squad.
One plant worker, Dustin Rosencrance, who was stacking cases of filled water bottles on pallets during a recent plant tour, said the job allowed him to move back to Mackay after living in Boise for a time.
“I love it,” he said. “My family has been here for generations. This job is an opportunity to come back home.”
Krosch said Mackay Springs at the base of the Lost River mountains produces about 500,000 gallons of water a day. His plant bottles about 100,000 gallons of water per month.
Mackay Mayor Wayne Olsen says the city’s water is the best in the state.
“Mackay Springs has produced water for the city of Mackay for well over a hundred years,” Olsen said. “The amount of water that (Proud Source) uses is not impacting the city water at all.”
Piron shares the same opinion on water quality.
“We learned that the water quality is exceptional,” he said. “It’s natural spring water from the source that comes out of the ground at 8.5 pH, which is an alkaline level that’s quite favorable these days nutritionally. It’s got naturally occurring minerals and electrolytes in the water. It’s not doctored up. … We do some filtration for safety reasons but it’s not like other water companies who are doing reverse osmosis water.”
During a recent tour of the Mackay bottling plant, Krosch proudly pointed to a giant filtration system.
“Don’t take pictures of that,” he said. “We don’t want any of our secrets getting out.”
Empty aluminum bottles marched along conveyor belts to be filled, capped and packed in boxes and loaded on pallets at 90 bottles a minute. A half-dozen workers were stationed at key spots along the production line. Sometimes workers would pause for a drink from Proud Source water bottles.
“Plastic is on its way out,” Krosch said. “Dasani just rolled out aluminum bottles.”
No. 1 bottled water brand, Aquafina produced by PepsiCo from filtered tap water, recently announced that it would start selling its water in aluminum cans as soon as next year. With other brands jumping on the aluminum bandwagon, Proud Source hopes its water quality will tip the scales in its favor.
“Plastic is an amazing material but for single usage it is not our best choice,” Piron said. “It gets downcycled over time to a quality that is not reusable. With aluminum, it’s an infinitely recyclable material. You can recycle it over and over and it will never lose its strength.”
An online video about the Proud Source company with images of the area is at tinyurl.com/ProudSourceWater.