During his 30-year career at Nestlé Waters North America, the president-CEO has seen bottled water evolve from a tiny business into an $11.5 billion category, of which his company controls roughly a third. He's also watched as it's gone from a heralded obesity antidote to being decried as wicked and wasteful. Still, he's confident it's only a matter of time before the pendulum swings back the other way. And in the coming year, the team at Nestlé will be urging that along with a new campaign focused on health and wellness.
The commercials are still in development, but early versions make a pointed case against sugary competitors. Images of children splashing in a pristine pool are accompanied by the voice-over, "Kids don't jump in pools of high-fructose corn syrup," for example. Already, the company is gaining traction with Spanish-language TV spots from Castells & Asociados, Los Angeles, that feature Cristina Saralegui, a popular talk-show host, extolling the virtues of water. All of the spots promote Nestlé Pure Life, the company's least-expensive product, handled for the general market by Publicis, Dallas.
In an interview with Ad Age, Mr. Jeffery provided a counter-argument to those who seek to demonize bottled water, and outlined Nestlé's plans to shift the discussion.
Ad Age: From an environmental perspective, your critics have been very vocal. What are you doing to counteract that?
Mr. Jeffery: I think we're a sound-bite society, so we'd rather single out one piece than look holistically at the whole carbon footprint of a company. Our company has the lightest environmental footprint of any beverage company in America. ... There are a lot of things that people don't know from an environmental standpoint, so we're starting to talk about some of that stuff on the back of our packaging.
Ad Age: Still, you've not been nearly as visible as your critics. Why?
Mr. Jeffery: We don't have a lot of money to spend. The people that think we are a marketing phenomena ignore the fact that our total media spend [is low]. We're half the size of the soft-drink industry, and our media budget is about 10% of theirs. We're the same size as the beer business, and our marketing budget is less than 10% of theirs.
Ad Age: Is marketing through your packaging more effective than measured media?
Mr. Jeffery: Not necessarily, but it's a tool that's not used often enough. We've got nine messages rotating through our labels. The first message we started with was the Eco-Shape message. It is the lightest half-liter bottle being made for beverages today. Next year we're going to lightweight it again and take another 20% of the weight out of the bottle. A case of Eco-Shape will have less than 10 oz. of plastic in it. When you put all of this stuff into context, we're the most efficient user of plastic. We put the healthiest beverage in a container. I would argue that we're good for the environment, and we're good for human health, as opposed to being an environmental villain.
Ad Age: Why shouldn't everyone just drink tap water if they want a healthful beverage option?
Mr. Jeffery: There's no one in America that can tell me that what you get out of your tap is the same as what we're able to deliver in a closed system. [We're] guaranteeing that product, when you open it up, is high quality. You can't make that guarantee for tap water that's coming through an infrastructure that's as much as 100 years old.
... We represent the only alternative when tap water goes down in America, and it goes down a lot.
Ad Age: Do you think the tide will turn and bottled water will cease to be a target?
Mr. Jeffery: It will absolutely turn. Plastic has had a bad time before. There's been all sorts of legislation to demonize plastic.
Ad Age: So will you be out there more aggressively telling your side of the story?
Mr. Jeffery: Our [marketing] spend is going to be significant next year, primarily focused on our Nestlé Pure Life brand. ... We are pretty certain that at the end of this year it will be larger than either Dasani [which is owned by Coca-Cola] or Aquafina [owned by PepsiCo] from a volume standpoint -- not from a revenue standpoint, because it sells for significantly less.
Ad Age: So will you have a message that focuses specifically on value and the economy?
Mr. Jeffery: No, you're going to see a message that talks to health and wellness. The platform for that brand is talking to moms and families. We also have a big Hispanic push going forward.
Ad Age: Why are you focusing on the Hispanic community?
Mr. Jeffery: One of the things we know is that when people migrate to this country from Latin American countries, they are very familiar with the Nestlé trademark. There's a high level of trust, and they index very high in bottled-water consumption because of the quality of tap water in their native countries. They're a natural audience for us.