COVE — The ever-thirsty market for bottled water is bringing a surge of business to a small Eastern Oregon company.
Cove-based Janus Industries now is a regional supplier for Wal-Mart Stores, the world’s biggest retailer, as well as two Kroger divisions, Fred Meyer and QFC. Janus route drivers also deliver bottled water to convenience store chains from Ellensburg to the Yakima Valley, and provide the firm’s private label Artesian Blue Water to offices and businesses in Eastern Oregon.
“If you walk into a Wal-Mart and pick up Great Value water, the label will say, ‘bottled by Janus Industries in Cove, Oregon,’” says Terrie Meredith, Janus general manager.
It all began a decade ago when ranchers Ken and Jeanette Knott drilled a well on their place near Cove. They were looking for irrigation water; what they tapped into, at a depth of 1,200 feet, was an artesian spring with pure water that flowed at a hefty 118 gallons a minute.
“It tested unbelievably pure,” says Meredith, the couple’s daughter. “My mother said, ‘The water’s so good we should bottle it.’”
The Knotts’ water company initially had four employees: Ken, Jeanette, Meredith and another daughter, Tina Hurst. “We hand-packed, hand-taped, made boxes ’til midnight. We were not automated at all,” Meredith says.
Then Janus landed the Wal-Mart contract. “Very quickly we realized you can’t supply Wal-Mart unless you’re automated. It’s all about quantity.”
The company now has a year-round staff of 17 employees, who work in a fully automated 30,000-square-foot plant in Cove, a quiet farm and ranch town of 680 residents 16 miles east of La Grande. Janus is Cove’s largest private employer.
“When we got the Wal-Mart contract we knew we could put people to work,” Meredith says, adding that Janus has been proud to provide a boost to an area of Oregon hard hit by cutbacks in the timber industry and mill closures.
She adds that business has doubled every year. “Last year we had a great winter, our busiest ever.”
The water company is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the state Department of Environmental Quality. “We’re a clean industry,” says Meredith. “We recycle everything at this facility.”
— Jeanie Senior