Sheikh Mohammed Mussallam has run a good number of companies in many different fields in his time – among them the construction and telecommunications industries and hotel sector. In his early fifties he found he was keen to try something new. When he visited friends in Armenia ten years ago, they greatly enthused about the quality and purity of Armenia’s water – and for the first time the sheikh learned of the many legends and myths that surround this essential element here. It gave him an idea.
Premium product from the Armenian mountains
Back in the 1980s he’d managed a family-run operation for bottled drinking water. He thus began developing the ambitious notion of returning to this field of business, this time with a premium product that has him so convinced that he’d love to market it the world over: natural Armenian mineral and spring water. In 2012 Mussallam contacted the country's government who introduced him to a number of extremely cooperative individuals in the ministries of the environment and mining. Together with a Swiss geotechnical company he began looking for the ideal location for his undertaking – which he subsequently found in Artavaz in the Kotayk Province in the Pambak Mountains about 80 kilometers northeast of the capital of Yerevan. Here, close to one of the largest and most popular Armenian ski resorts in Tsaghkadzor, where the mountains of the Lesser Caucasus reach heights of more than 2,800 meters above sea level, two springs can be found in the midst of totally unspoiled surroundings. Rare mineral water comes from Anapak Mountain, 2,050 meters up. It contains bicarbonate and is rich in calcium and low in sodium; it’s a gentle digestive stimulant and with its high mineral content especially suitable for the preparation of baby food. The source of Rare’s pure spring water – Aknaler Mountain with an altitude of 2,450 meters – is just five kilometers away; with its low to medium mineral content, this water is extremely balanced.
Following extensive research and analysis, the high quality of Rare water has been certified by several recognized organizations for a period of five years. These include Geotest in Switzerland, SGS Institut Fresenius in Germany, Zenith Global in Great Britain and the Armenian National Academy of Sciences. The natural purity, high quality and specific composition of the water are constantly monitored. In order to protect the spring from all outside impact, A&M Rare acquired the terrain and successively dedicated it as a nature conservation area – which proved a real marathon when it came to negotiation. From having the initial idea to the ultimate launch of his company A&M Rare, it took Mussallam five years to purchase the full 1,700 hectares of land from the various owners of this sparsely populated stretch of Armenia.
No compromise on purity
Mussallam is not a man to compromise, however: for him the absolute purity and unadulterated quality of his water have top priority. “Our products are completely natural and not treated in any way whatsoever. I always say, with a twinkle in my eye, that the only ‘machinery’ we need to transport the water from the mountain to our plant is gravity.” He’s particularly enamored of the untainted natural landscape that effuses a paradisiacal charm at all times of the year.
He also loves the culture of the country, whose people he finds especially open, cooperative and welcoming. This also applies to the political and regulatory conditions for investors.
High-tech equipment with excellent after-sales service
As his partner for certification, approval and basic technical concerns Mussallam chose SGS-TÜV Saar which advises and supports him on all issues of system, building, machine and also product safety. It was on recommendation of this company that Mussallam eventually came into contact with the German systems supplier. “It was important to me that we also adhere to the highest possible standards when it comes to production and filling,” he explains. “For me, this includes the provision of high-tech equipment in the form of lines and machines on the one hand and the availability of after-sales service in this rather remote part of the world on the other. What particularly won me over to KHS was that I could procure practically everything from a single source and that we can have a KHS engineer on site at any time within just 48 hours.”
The Saudi businessman also finds it important that the chemistry’s right: in the meantime he’s formed quite a friendship with Oliver Schneider, deputy head of Sales at KHS, with both men on first-name terms. Schneider emphasizes, “Even if Mohammed’s relatively new to the business, he knows exactly what he wants and what he’s doing. He’s positively bursting with ideas which we’ve been able to help him realize with great interest and commitment right from the start. He really appreciates this – and this helped us to quickly form a really trusting relationship.”
The experts from KHS have been involved in many parts of the project from the planning of the building and its infrastructure through the technical concept to the design of the bottles, labels and packaging. The construction of the bottling shop alone posed quite a challenge in Armenia with its high risk of earthquakes. The outer walls are made of solid concrete, the roof of composite panels. In view of the extreme fluctuations in temperature, often icy in the mountains, great attention was also paid to the thermal insulation. It gets down to -25°C here in the winter, with two meters or more of snow not uncommon. When this is the case, the access and surrounding roads have to be kept clear so that the water can be delivered. “A&M Rare is one of the most modern factories I’ve ever seen,” exclaims Schneider. “Mussallam has invested a total of €22 million here, with around €6.8 million going into the technology alone. All of the materials and systems are of the best quality.”
KHS has installed two lines: a non-returnable PET line and a glass line, both with capacities of up to 12,000 bottles per hour. Both can fill the company’s still spring and carbonated mineral water. While the PET line has a stretch blow molder/filler block, the glass bottling system has a block comprising a rinser and filler. “In order to meet the high demand for product quality, both blocks and the capper are housed in their own hygiene room,” Schneider explains. “The filling section is consciously separated from the packaging and palletizing section that’s positioned in the warehouse area behind a partition.” Both lines are equipped with a KHS Innoket Neo SK labeler that dresses the bottles with self-adhesive, transparent labels in a no-label look.