GRIMES COUNTY — Both the old and the new were celebrated Tuesday — a new premium bottled water company owned by Chuck and Gena Norris and the ancient water they are bottling and selling under the CForce brand.
In front of a crowd of local officials, businesses and the media, the couple laid out their vision for competing with premium brands Evian, SmartWater and Fiji at the new, 43,500-square-foot CForce Bottling Company along Texas 90 in Grimes County.
The water was discovered by accident on the Norris family ranch, Gena Norris said. Her son-in-law was drilling wells on the land to irrigate hay fields and sustain their cattle operation.
While drilling the third well, they hit a natural spring, and water “spewed out like black crude oil” in the air, she said. About 168,000 thousand gallons of water flooded their property and their neighbors’ land.
The drillers had come across an artesian well containing water that dates back to the last Ice Age. “Artesian” means it isn’t pumped, but flows out of the ground of its own power.
“God laid it in our lap,” Gena Norris said.
They saw the discovery as an opportunity to financially support their nonprofit organization, Kickstart Kids. A portion of the profits will go to the organization, which promotes character-building through karate training in schools.
The move also shows donors how serious the family is about continuing their mission, and possibly expanding the youth program to other areas, such as Chicago.
This school year, nearly 9,000 Texas students are enrolled in the program, including Navasota, Bryan and College Station students.
“We’re setting up a legacy, not for our family, but for the foundation,” Gena Norris said. “We’re going to be able to give back long after we’re gone. It’s very important to us, because children matter.”
The Norrises hired hydrogeologist Len Sinfield, a certified geologist in California and Texas. He assessed the qualities of the water as well as the size and properties of the deposit.
By carbon-dating samples, Sinfield determined it was more than 23,000 years old. The water didn’t have traces of common, modern compounds such as CFCs in it, he said.
“It’s harder and harder to find water that old,” Sinfield said. “It’s good to see it bottled. ... It’s conserving the resource.”
The volume and depth of the water is proprietary information, but Sinfield said it’s enough to run the plant “for a very long time, past our lifetimes.”
After learning all of that, Gena Norris said she and her husband felt confident about their business plan. They have invested about $10 million into the company so far, she said.
An investment of that size has not gone unappreciated by area officials. Johnny McNally, executive director of the Navasota Grimes County Chamber of Commerce, called it a “landmark event” for the county and the area. Navasota Mayor Bert Miller told The Eagle that the CForce brand will bring prestige to the town, in addition to jobs. The company currently employs 15 people.
“It’ll be something that’s not just known regionally, but nationwide,” Miller said. “That could do nothing but bring attention to the area in a positive way.”
In laying out her vision for the company, Gena Norris said she hopes CForce Bottling Company becomes to Navasota, Anderson and Grimes County what Blue Bell Ice Cream is to Brenham. They employed local companies and workers as often as possible when constructing the building, putting in the plumbing and receiving legal and financial advice.
“We’re part of this community, and we’ve been blessed with the means, and it’s very important to give back,” she said “Relationships are everything.”
Gena Norris is the majority owner and CEO of the company, making CForce Bottling Company a certified woman-owned business.
“I’m just a cheerleader. She has done a phenomenal job,” Chuck Norris said of his wife. “I’m just an actor. I don’t know anything about this stuff.”
CForce bottles are now available in some local stores, as well as Maverik stores on the West Coast. The chain of nearly 300 convenience stores were the first retailers to carry the product.
The company, based in Salt Lake City, began collaborating with the Norrises for a “Truck Norris” promotion. They worked with the Discovery Channel show Diesel Brothers to create a custom truck that will be given away to a Maverik customer, said Aaron Simpson, chief marketing officer for Maverik. An episode of show detailing the making of the truck will air Feb. 20.
The brand will be available in Randalls, Tom Thumb, Albertsons and United supermarkets in mid-February, with plans to sell in H-E-B stores sometime in the spring. The water also be sold on Amazon.
But Gena Norris has plans beyond the U.S. — she hopes to have the water carried by an international distributor. She said market research shows that the Chuck Norris brand is just as popular overseas.
But for now, they are going to use more unconventional methods to share it with friends abroad. They were recently invited to Israel by the prime minister.
“We’ll probably take some CForce water in our suitcases,” Gena said.