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NORTH Water Elevated Co-Founders Share How They’ve Built their Brand from the Ground Up

By Royal Bank of Canada

Published April 15, 2024 • 8 Min Read

With thoughtful strategies around branding, pricing, packaging and distribution, NORTH is experiencing strong, steady growth while remaining true to a vision founded on Canadian values and showcasing Canada to the world.

NORTH is a Calgary-based company co-founded by Saawan Logan and Linda Cheung. Both immigrants to Canada, they met while working in corporate roles in the oil and gas sector. At similar stages in life and career, they were at a point where they wanted to explore entrepreneurship. “I reached a point in my career where I wanted to change and desired to create something meaningful,” says Linda in a recent conversation. “Saawan and I simply started talking about trying something new.”

How NORTH was born

When thinking about potential business ideas, Saawan kept coming back to being inspired and awed by the ‘Canada factor’ – one that conjures up images of the Canadian Rockies and the beauty and purity of the north. Linda was firmly on board. “We are big fans of Canada,” she says. We wanted to give something back to showcase the country.” Sourced from the Canadian Rockies, NORTH is comprised of pure glacial melt that is naturally high in alkalinity and vital minerals. It is packaged in a reusable aluminum bottle that is purposefully designed to reflect the spirit of Canada and the company’s values of quality and sustainability. It is water elevated to a whole new level.

A purposeful naming, branding and distribution strategy

When you look at the world stage, there are limited water options that represent Canada. “We buy water from Fiji, France, Switzerland. In Canada, we have the third largest reserves of freshwater – we should be proud of these resources and what we have to offer,” says Linda, explaining that before NORTH came along, there was little Canadian representation in the water market.

With a uniquely and purely Canadian product, Linda and Saawan set out to create a brand that proudly represents the country. “Starting with the name, we gave a lot of thought to how we wanted to position ourselves. NORTH came about because it feels cold and pristine, which is a glacial source. And, we wanted a one-word name that no matter where you are in the world or what language you speak, you would have no trouble saying it and the meaning would be consistent,” explains Saawan. 

NORTH is water held to a higher standard

Their branding exercise then extended to their packaging. Knowing that introducing another bottled water product to the market in plastic was not the answer to curbing plastic pollution, they began researching aluminum bottles. “Aluminum is the most recycled product in the world,” explains Linda. “It can become a car part the next day, or something else the day after that. By using aluminum, we know we’re not adding to the Earth’s landfills.”

The bottle itself was designed to represent their water source, with aqua blue and white capturing the vivid colours of the mineral-rich glacial lakes that can be found in the Banff and Jasper areas of Alberta. “There is a lot more power and story behind the colours and design than just looking pretty – the bottle is designed to embody Canada in every way, shape and form,” says Saawan.

When they started, NORTH was the only brand of Canadian water in Canada in aluminum bottles. While being first-to-market is usually a positive thing, price became a key consideration – while a plastic bottle can cost 10 cents, aluminum is $1.00. “We knew price was going to be a challenge and that we would not succeed on a supermarket shelf beside a $1 product,” says Saawan, who explains their product sells for $4 in retail stores and up to $9 in hotels. Their strategy therefore focused on hotels from the outset – their first customer was the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and today they distribute in high end and boutique hotels from Vancouver Island to New Brunswick. 

“There is a lot of appetite in hotel segments because their clientele demands premium products, and that’s what we’re offering. And, as hotels are shifting from plastics, they’re looking for an alternative. We’re at the right place for them,” says Linda. What also works is that their bottle is refillable, and in those hotels that are adding refilling stations to meet their own sustainability goals, the NORTH bottle is an excellent option. 

Three Branding Tips for New Entrepreneurs from NORTH’S Co-Founder, Saawan Logan:

1. Be thoughtful about your name.

“We wanted a one-word name that no matter where you lived in the world or what language you spoke, you would have no trouble saying or spelling it, and it would have consistent meaning.”

2. Align your brand with your values.

Water Elevated captures the essence of NORTH. From the purity of the Canadian Rockies to the health benefits of the water and the aluminum packaging, NORTH embodies health and sustainability. Their imagery, messaging, naming and distribution strategies all ladder up to their core values.  

3. Clearly define your market.

“We knew we weren’t going to succeed on a supermarket shelf beside plastic bottled water, which was being sold at a significantly lower price point. So, we targeted hotels with high end clientele and created a unique experience.” 

Entrepreneurial drive and passion fueled by the immigrant experience

While Linda and Saawan have unique journeys – Linda’s family arrived in Canada as refugees from Vietnam in the 1980s and Saawan was born in Fiji, traveled the world in her youth and immigrated from Australia as an adult – their experiences as immigrants have helped formed their perspective as citizens and entrepreneurs. Both with successful corporate careers, Linda and Saawan each searched for more meaning, compelled to give back to the country they call home and to create something that reflected their pride in Canada. 

“For us, Canada was a new lease on life,” explains Linda. “We wanted to give something back.”

While their experience as immigrants has powered their business, it has also presented challenges, mainly through a lack of access to strategic partners who can help NORTH attain their goal of being Canada’s premium water product at a faster pace.  “So, for us, it’s always going to mean grassroots efforts – and that’s okay, because we learn a lot more. It’s a game of patience and perseverance,” says Saawan.

Their relationship with RBC, however, has proven to be a form of equalizer. “RBC is introducing us and championing us to partners that we would never have access to,” says Linda. “They have helped tremendously, connecting us with strategic buyers and corporate organizations. They are levelling the playing field for us.”

Saawan adds that RBC has been a true partner. “It is a real differentiator – it’s one thing to have a bank – it is another to say that we have a partnership with someone in our ecosystem who truly wants to amplify our brand.”

It’s been a real joy to work closely with Linda and Saawan,” says Darren Henry, RBC Vice President, Business Markets – Alberta and the Territories. “Their personal journey is an inspiration for all of us – and I’m sure will be for entrepreneurial newcomers. NORTH is what’s possible when you think big, trust your instincts and partner with the right people.”

Moving into bubbles and across borders: What’s next for NORTH

Building on their success to date, NORTH is expanding both their offering and their market reach. They have started to sell sparkling water and their products are also available in cans. 

And, they are dipping their toes in the U.S. market. As NORTH expands south of the border, their relationship with RBC again plays a meaningful role. “We know we can rely on RBC in many ways,” says Linda. “It’s nice to have a partner that has presence in the United States, which is our natural next big market. We can do business comfortably in the U.S. because we know they have presence there. There is a lot that RBC brings to the table for us.”

With a goal to gain distribution in 17 states in 2024, and continue their reach across Canada, NORTH is excited to extend the connection they feel for their country to others.

“We’re so pleased to be able to offer Linda and Saawan RBC tools and connections that are in place to help businesses expand beyond Canada,” says Darren. “It’s the next frontier for NORTH and we are excited to support, advise and amplify in every way possible.”

For Linda and Saawan, entrepreneurship wasn’t necessarily on either of their radars, but it proved a way to fulfill their desire to contribute. “A business owner was never something I wanted to be, but when I found myself with a need for more and desire to live my life to the fullest, I wanted to do something I was passionate about. And I am passionate about Canada. NORTH is more than just water,” says Saawan. “It is a connection, and that’s what we are trying to build.”

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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