How Bevi Created a Smart, Sustainable Office Water Cooler
Ask any office manager what the cultural trends in their office will be in 2018 and you’ll likely hear the same list. Sustainability: employees’ desire to shrink their carbon footprint is leading employers to make different product choices. Customization: people love having their specific needs met, and they expect their offices to help make that happen. Efficiency: no one, especially finance managers, likes waste. Company culture has to add value without draining the budget. Office managers and employers are tasked with finding innovative ways to delight and satisfy their employees without ostentatious displays that break the bank.
Bevi, the water dispenser that promises to “unboring your water,” sits at the exact overlap of sustainability, customization, and efficiency. It cuts plastic waste in a meaningful, measurable way; allows employees to create their perfect, healthy beverage; and saves time for office managers through proactive servicing and a sleek design. Although Bevi promises to modernize the water cooler moment, it took many iterations for the Boston-based, MIT-trained team of three co-founders to arrive at the product they offer today. Launched in 2013, Bevi (which means "you drink” in Italian) tried to “outdesign bottled water.”
But why are plastic bottles a problem Bevi set out to solve? While they are recyclable, the average American uses 167 plastic bottles a year, but only recycles 38 of them. In addition, recycling, while a good step, still takes individual effort, an organizational system like an office recycling program, and resources that aren’t always in place.
When it launched, Bevi (then called Refresh) replaced plastic bottles in its consumer-targeted vending machines with glass bottles. Consumers would pay a deposit on the reusable bottle and could return it to get their money back if they chose. Another early prototype dispensed space saving, collapsible, reusable bottles that consumers could fill up at the vending machine. The logistics proved challenging. In addition, the bottles, while reusable, still created waste.
The real lightbulb moment for Bevi occurred when the team realized that a business-to-business model—placing Bevi machines in offices—allowed them to utilize the offices’ cups, glasses, mugs, and assorted vessels to skip disposable bottles altogether. They had hit on a sustainable model, both for their business and their customers, and the first standing unit Bevi dispenser was placed in an office in 2016. While the team is always looking for the next innovation, the current Bevi is a smart water cooler that dispenses still and sparkling flavored water. It’s connected to the internet, so it alerts the Bevi service team when it needs flavors refilled, and it tracks flavor preferences and delivers data back to Bevi. Each machine can stock four flavors, and office managers can choose from the range available, like grapefruit, blueberry cucumber, lemon, coconut, and orange mango. They have a whole team dedicated to flavor development and introduce new flavors frequently. When a prospective client expresses interest, a Bevi representative will even conduct a site visit to offer a flavor tasting.
According to Joyce, Flavor Product Manager at Bevi, the team has already noticed some distinct regional preferences, “California wants everything unsweetened and without preservatives, while folks in the Southeast and Texas love lightly sweetened flavors.” The amount of flavor in any beverage can even be controlled by the user, and comes with nutritional information about calories and any added sweeteners (although most flavors are unsweetened).
And sustainability is still core to the benefits that Bevi brings to an office. In 2017, Bevi spared the earth more than 15 million plastic bottles. For an environmentally conscious office, where employees protest Keurig pods or work to start a composting program, a service like Bevi can showcase a company’s values and help contribute to employee happiness. It provides all the perks a refrigerator full of LaCroix without all the cans.
For office managers responsible for restocking the beverage supplies, Bevi is a huge time-saver. Because the smart water cooler alerts Bevi HQ when its flavor supplies are low, the company is able to proactively service the machine. In addition, since it filters tap water from the office’s main water line, there are no bulky water jugs to awkwardly turn upside down and install.
Saving time for a busy office manager is a big victory in any company. Throw in hydrated and delighted employees, and meaningful waste reduction, and you have a winning combination. In addition, Bevi is continuing to iterate and experiment. “We’re always looking into the next level of customization in our product roadmaps,” says Co-Founder Frank Lee. To that end, Bevi has launched a smaller countertop unit, is expanding to new markets, and is always exploring new flavors. Currently in the lab? Strawberry basil and ginger honey.