The Bottling Plant in the Mountains

Sheikh Mohammed Mussallam describes what it’s like to build a brand new water bottling company, A&M Rare, in the remote Pambak Mountains of Armenia.

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Packaging World:
How did this idea get launched in the first place?

Sheikh Mohammed Mussallam:
I’ve run a number of companies in many different fields, some in the construction and telecommunications industries and others in the hotel sector. In my early fifties I found I was keen to try something new. When visiting friends in Armenia ten years ago, they greatly enthused about the quality and purity of Armenia’s water—and for the first time I learned of the many legends and myths that surround this essential element here. That’s what launched the idea.

What were the early steps?
In 2012 I contacted the Armenian government, which introduced me to a number of extremely cooperative individuals in the ministries of the environment and mining. Together with a Swiss geotechnical company I began looking for the ideal location for such an undertaking. I subsequently found it 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  it’s especially suitable for the preparation of baby food. The source of this 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.

Did you have to do anything in particular to shield the spring from 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 A&M Rare, it took five years to purchase the full 1,700 hectares of land from the various owners of this sparsely populated stretch of Armenia.

Were there other unusual challenges you had to face?
The construction of the bottling shop alone posed quite a challenge considering the high risk of earthquakes in Armenia. 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.

And then you also faced the burdens of COVID-19?
That’s right. The installation itself went smoothly enough, but commissioning was a totally different matter due to the corona crisis and the limited freedom of movement for the 15-strong KHS team. As soon as the first restrictions were lifted, KHS was back on site. Of course we always had to adhere to strict rules of hygiene and present countless documents at the airport. We stationed the colleagues from KHS up in the mountains and strictly controlled access to the plant. It all worked very well, and we were able to limit the delay to just four months. We used this time to forge ahead with our marketing campaign and stock up on raw materials so that we’re now in a position to produce four million bottles without a hitch.

Click here to read more about Sheikh Mohammed Mussallam and A&M Rare.

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