Business World

Thursday 22 March 2018

Canadian company's product is literally a breath of fresh air for smoggy China market

Heavy smog shrouds Shanghai’s skyline last week. Photo: Reuters
Heavy smog shrouds Shanghai’s skyline last week. Photo: Reuters

Jennifer Pak

A Canadian company is bottling fresh air from the Rocky Mountains and selling it to the citizens of increasingly polluted Chinese cities.

Vitality Air was founded last year in the western Canadian city of Edmonton but began selling in China less than two months ago.

"Our first shipment of 500 bottles of fresh air were sold in four days," said Moses Lam, its co-founder.

Another 4,000 bottles are making their way to China and most of that shipment is already spoken for.

A 7.7-litre can of crisp air from Lake Louise in Banff National Park sells for roughly 100 yuan (around €13), which is 50 times more than a bottle of mineral water.

Most customers live in big cities in the north-east and south of the country, where severe pollution warnings are common.

The capital, Beijing, recently issued a red alert for pollution that forced half of its cars off the road. Xinhua, the state news agency, posted a picture online of the city centre barely visible under a thick soup of smog during the week.

The Canadian company is not the first to sell fresh air to the Chinese.

Last year, Liang Kegang, a Beijing artist, fetched the equivalent of €700 for a glass jar filled with air collected during a business trip to southern France.

In 2013, Chen Guangbiao, a multimillionaire, sold fizzy drink-sized cans of air purportedly taken from less industrialised regions of China for 5 yuan (around 70 cent) each. Mr Lam admitted that he started Vitality Air as a joke when he and Troy Paquette, his co-founder, filled a plastic bag of air and sold it for less than 70 cent on the auction website eBay.

A second bag sold for US$160 (€145).

"That's when we realised there is a market for this," he said.

Vitality Air sells bottled fresh air and oxygen across North America, to India and the Middle East. But China has quickly become its biggest overseas market.

The company's representative there, Harrison Wang, says their customers are mainly affluent Chinese women who buy bottles for their families or to give as gifts.

But he says old people's homes and even exclusive nightclubs have also stocked up on the product.

"In China, fresh air is a luxury, something so precious," said Mr Wang.

A number of distributors had contacted them to sell their products, he added.

Vitality Air's biggest challenge is to keep up with demand, because each bottle is filled by hand.

"It's very labour-intensive but we also wanted to make it a very unique and fun product," said Mr Lam.

"We may have bitten off more than we can chew." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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