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PARIS -- Swiss food giant Nestle will seek to revive the fortunes of its troubled mineral water brand Perrier with a packaging and advertising overhaul based around the pending pan-European launch of plastic bottles.

The new plastic bottles are scheduled to begin showing up on store shelves during June in France, where Perrier records about half of its annual sales, which reached $270 million in 2000.

Nestle will subsequently launch the plastic bottles in leading European markets, including Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the U.K., and plans to bring the product to North America in 2002.

Nestle has tapped longtime Perrier agency Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, Paris, to coordinate an estimated $5 million French advertising push around the new bottles, which are described in short spots as "easily transportable" and "unbreakable." By focusing on these product attributes, the spots aim to move Perrier away from the cafe and restaurant market favored by adult consumers and closer to the rapid-growth take-away sector, which includes the fast-food outlets, stadium sales points and drink distribution machines favored by younger consumers.

The move to reduce the use of Perrier's distinctive, bubble-shaped glass bottles is part of an effort to remake the company's image and increase sales, particularly among young adults who have become accustomed to drinks in plastic bottles. The packaging change will also cut transport and manufacturing costs, a critical issue at Perrier, which had its first break-even year in 2000, after recording losses in every previous year since a benzene contamination scare in the U.S. in 1990.

Nestle projects it will sell 16 million plastic bottles of Perrier in 2001 and has set an ambitious objective of 150 million bottles, or about one-fifth of all bottles sold, for the medium-term. -- Lawrence J. Speer

Copyright April 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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