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Sunday, January 01, 2006

Sky's the limit for 'rain man'

The Mercury: Sky's the limit for 'rain man' [01jan06]

DUNCAN McFie lives in one of Tasmania's wettest locations with rain falling on average 214 days a year, but he doesn't mind a bit.

Indeed the King Island school teacher, who is taking the international bottled water market by storm with his King Island Cloud Juice, could be forgiven for rubbing his hands together in glee every time it rains.

"The locals accuse me of doing that, but I don't see dollar signs when it rains," Mr McFie said. "I don't see weather as good or bad, it's just weather."

When Mr McFie was forced "screaming" onto King Island as a young teacher in 1992 he would never have believed that 14 years later he'd still be living there and running a very island-based business.

"I knocked the teaching job back three times, I seriously did not want to come to King Island, but now I think it was absolutely meant to be.

"The first year was hard, but now I can't imagine living anywhere else.

"King Island gives me the lifestyle I want and I love the lack of traffic lights, not having to lock your car and knowing everyone -- it's like a big family."

He came up with the idea of bottling the island's water while living in the teacher's hostel.

"I noticed that everyone was coming to the hostel to fill their bottles from the rainwater tanks because the island's bore water was crap, and off I went."

He spent the next four years researching the market and how to collect the water.

"The cost at the start was prohibitive and I was only able to start the business with the help of people on the island," he said. "Island friends let me collect the water on their property and another let me use his factory for bottling on weekends."

Mainland friends with skills in graphic design, law, accountancy and engineering also helped the business.

"This business personifies synergy and I think it was a blessed event which was just meant to be."

The company is now producing 80,000 bottles a year from rainwater collected on two purpose-built roofs and is making inroads into the international market.

"There is a French store with a water bar and King Island Cloud Juice is the only Tasmanian water it stocks."

The water is also sold in London, Paris and Brussels.

Mr McFie believed the water's success was because of two factors -- its quality and smart marketing.

"I'm certain the taste is what is getting us into France," he said.

"A lot of European waters are high in sodium and our water is not. Another advantage of our water is the lack of aftertaste and the fact you can drink it at all temperatures."

However, he thought the European market also liked the fact that every bottle of King Island Cloud Juice tells a quirky story.

"We call the cloud juice 'droplets of rainwater made in heaven' and the label tells people how many drops are in each bottle."

For example, the 750ml bottle of King Island Cloud Juice contains 9750 drops of pure rainwater.

"The label also tells the story of the water's collection -- untainted rainwater delivered 11,100km off the Great Southern Ocean where trade winds evaporate pure clean water into rain clouds that don't touch land until they meet King Island -- and I think that story also helps sell the water."

He is now in the process of bottling a big order for Spain and has reduced his teaching hours to devote more time to the business.

"The sky is the limit, literally! As long as it keeps raining."


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