By Donna Thornton/News Editor
Karl Strain and the staff at Kyuka Pure Spring Water, located in the Duck Springs area, were pleased to receive the 2013 Excellence in Manufacturing Award from the International Bottled Water Association.
But they shouldn’t have been surprised. It is the 11th time Kyuka Water has been honored for excellence among small water bottling companies by the IBWA.
Strain said the award recognizes the quality of the company’s operations and its product.
“We may not be as big as some companies,” Strain said, “but we do it better than anyone else.” Kyuka is family-owned and operated. Strain said the board consists of himself, his mom and his dad, who has retired, and his aunt and uncle. Emily Richey continues to do accounting for the business, mostly from home.
Strain credits the company’s 16 employees – all of whom strive for the best quality not only in the bottling of natural spring water, but in the service provided to Kyuka’s customers.
The quality of water at Kyuka Spring, a natural spring in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, was no secret to people of the area, well before Karl’s father Bryant Strain purchased the property in Duck Springs and began looking into bottling the water.
It took two and a half years of testing to get source approval for the spring, Strain said, and another year getting the operation started.
In 1996, the first water from Kyuka Spring was bottled. The business has grown since then, Strain said, leading the company to build a new larger building. And still, Strain said, the flow of water from the spring could support a much larger operation than his family runs today.
Kyuka Water supplies coolers and 5-gallon water bottles to business customers. The company also bottles private label water for businesses that want to put their own company logo on bottled water as a promotional tool.
Kyuka’s label probably is familiar to most Etowah County residents, who have seen it in businesses and on the company’s delivery trucks.
Strain said the Native American-themed logo is a tribute to the history of the spring’s location. Duck Springs, he said, was named for Chief Duck, a historical figure in the area.
Oddly enough, Strain said, when the spring was being enclosed and in subsequent work at the site, few if any Indian artifacts have been found. He said there have been plenty of old dippers, horseshoes and artifacts left by other settlers and local folk who used the spring.
Strain said he believes that’s because the Native Americans just didn’t leave things behind like later users did.
The process of bottling water is much more involved than dipping it out of the natural spring and putting it in a bottle. Strain said Kyuka’s water is ionized to eliminate bacteria before it’s put into recyclable bottles – that are washed and rinsed five times after each use.
Ionization serves the same function for Kyuka’s water that chlorine and other chemicals added to municipal water during the treatment process does, he said, without altering the taste.
Strain said the bottled water industry, like many others, faced a number of changes after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when safety concerns about contamination increased instantly.
Increased safety requirements put some smaller bottlers out of business, Strain said, but Kyuka has continued to meet the new requirements while expanding the business.
The water is tested for 200 potential contaminants, he said, which is a very expensive part of doing business. Kyuka’s new building, like the spring house, are built on raised ground, so they will be above the flood plane to prevent contamination that could come with high waters.
Much of the work on the new building was done by the same employees who take such care in bottling and delivering Kyuka water. “They were here hanging sheetrock,” Strain said, because that is the way its always been done since his father started the business.
“If we could do it ourselves, we did,” Strain said. “Our employees have that same mindset.”
The future of the business, as Strain sees it, will be a continued emphasis on customer service and being a good corporate citizen.
In the past Strain served as president of the Southeastern Bottled Water Association, and he is very active in the International Bottled Water Association, which helps to guide and advise thinking for small bottlers.
“I think we’ve made a difference at times with that,” Strain said.
“We’re really proud of the quality we’ve got here,” he said, and of the awards that quality has garnered for Kyuka. Strain said his family is equally proud to be providing jobs in the community, for a group of exceptional employees.
“They’ve been the real key,” he said, to the company’s success. “They take real pride in what they do. They have built our business.”