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Inkstone Explains: The bottled water billionaire


China’s billionaire class has a new member, Zhong Shanshan, who made his wealth from one of the country’s hottest commodities: bottled water.


Zhong, who chairs one of China’s largest beverage bottling companies, has joined the likes of Alibaba founder Jack Ma, Tencent CEO Pony Ma and real estate mogul Hui Ka-yan on the Forbes China Rich List. (Alibaba Group is the parent company of Inkstone.)


According to Forbes, Zhong was worth $54.2 billion on September 21, making him the second-richest man in China, behind only Tencent’s Pony Ma.


Zhong shot up the rankings after his company Nongfu Spring went public on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on September 8, 2020.


Investors tripped over themselves to buy a piece of the company because of its dominance of the water market in the country of 1.4 billion people and increasing demand for reliable water.


What’s so special about Zhong’s water company?

Nongfu Spring, which translates into “Farmer’s Spring,” is China’s largest bottled water company by market share.


Zhong founded the company in 1996 at Thousand Island Lake in Zhejiang province, known as one of China’s largest and cleanest water reservoirs. 


Nongfu grabbed attention through ad campaigns that promoted its product as natural water containing minerals, differentiating itself from distilled water.


A standard bottle of natural drinking water costs around 1.5 yuan ($0.22).


The company also signed deals to become the designated water supplier for China’s space industry and three major international political events in 2017.


Zhong, who was worth $2 billion last year, saw his personal wealth balloon by 25 times thanks in part to his ability to maintain ownership of 84% of Nongfu.

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