FRYEBURG, Maine — Nestle announced last week that Poland Spring is among American brands that might be sold off as part of a new direction for the international company.
Nestle S.A. is headquartered in Vevey, Vaud, Switzerland. According to a press release, on June 11, its board of directors "approved a new strategic direction for its waters business" that will focus on its "iconic international brands" while also seeking to improve the environment.
"At the same time, the board concluded that its regional spring water brands, purified water business and beverage delivery service at its Nestle Waters North America unit lie outside this focus," the company stated.
"As a result, the company has decided to explore strategic options, including a potential sale, for the majority of the Nestle Waters business in North America (U.S. and Canada), excluding its international brands. This review is expected to be completed by early 2021."
Bloomberg reported that possible buyers include Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc.
According to Nestle's press release, "The Nestle Waters business in North America, excluding international brands, had sales of around 3.4 billion in (Swiss francs) in 2019."
It said that apart from the "retained international brands," Nestle's holdings include regional U.S. spring water brands Deer Park, Ozarka, Ice Mountain, Zephyrhills and Arrowhead, along with Poland Spring.
They also comprises the direct-to-consumer and office beverage delivery service ReadyRefresh by Nestle and the Nestle Pure Life brand, it said.
Poland Spring brand water gets water from eight spring sites in Maine, including Evergreen Spring in Fryeburg, where Fryeburg Water Co. pumps the water and sells it to Nestle.
Poland Spring also owns 464 acres in Fryeburg.
In response to a request for comment, a Nestle spokesperson who works for Portland, Maine-based Serra Public Affairs, a strategic communications consultant whose other clients include Central Maine Power and New England Clean Energy Connect, emailed the following:
"During the strategic review process, which has just begun, Poland Spring will continue operating largely in a 'business as usual' state. At this time, it is too early to speculate about the result of the review process and what that may mean for Poland Spring.
"Also, while we don’t know what will happen after the strategic review is completed, we would point out that the vast majority of our customers and consumers are from just nine Northeastern states.
"In the meantime, Poland Spring continues to be committed to Maine, particularly in the communities where our employees live and work. We plan to continue to demonstrate that commitment in the weeks and months to come."
Janice Crawford, a former Fryeburg selectman and executive director of the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, told the Sun: "I am hopeful that Nestle’s recent announcement to support environmental issues will bring those who are against the corporation more open to a win-win relationship.
"We need large corporations to take an interest in our environmental needs for two reasons: 1) so they do not contribute negatively to our environmental concerns and 2) that they have the financial wherewithal to afford major changes to systems required to make an impact," Crawford said.
"Kudos to Nestle for their efforts and to those who act as watchdogs to promote these changes."
Reached for comment, Fryeburg Selectmen's Chair Tom Klinepeter said: "As long as Poland Springs is making money I would not expect to see any changes in their operations in Fryeburg."
Fryeburg Water District trustee Greg Huang-Dale said: "If the sale of Poland Spring has any impact on our public utility, I'm sure the Water District trustees will also voice their position as representatives of Fryeburg Water Co. customers and residents of the Water District and their interests.
He added: "We wish to maintain accessibility to high quality and sufficient quantities of ground water for public consumption while not overdrawing a resource that is clearly linked to other local private wells and the inflow source of surface water bodies, such as Lovewell Pond which provide many residents with numerous benefits."
Huang-Dale explained that the water district "is a quasi-municipal organization set up with the specific purpose of purchasing and owning this public infrastructure as well as the Ward's Brook Aquifer well."
Local water rights ativist Nickie Sekera told the Sun: "This could be strategic on their part, to force negotiations to push our groundwater to be shipped around the world to little benefit of Maine people and a detriment to our environment. But at the moment, it's a wait and see game."
Washington-based Food & Water Watch had appealed Public Utility Commission's approval of a long-term contract between Fryeburg Water Co. and Nestle Waters North America (operating locally as Poland Spring).
That contract was upheld by Maine's Supreme Court in 2016 after three years of legal wrangling.
Reached Monday, Food & Water Watch had this to say:
"Nestle has a long track record of flexing its political and financial muscle to get what it wants in Maine — most notably by getting state regulatory approval for a long-term deal to pump out hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per day in Fryeburg. It also has been given a seat on the Maine Environmental Protection Board.
"Nestle has obviously felt the pressure to leave Maine, but any other corporation that purchases their operations should know that the people of Maine will continue this fight and not stop until large scale water extraction and bottled water companies no longer operate in the state."
In 2017, a proposal to allow Fryeburg's selectmen to sell land at the Eastern Slope Regional Airport to Nestle for a possible water-bottling plant failed 600-259.
Nestle Waters acquired the Poland Spring brand in 1992.