SUNTORY SEALS WATER TO BUILD BRANDS

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Suntory Water Group is putting two new safety seals on its bottles.

These aren't new kinds of tamper-proof packaging; Suntory wants to build the value of its four regional water brands.

One is the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, which will make its first appearance on a bottled water with Suntory's Belmont Springs, Crystal Springs, Polar and Kentwood brands. Ads break in the November issue of Good Housekeeping, and the seal will begin appearing on labels in January.

"We need to reinforce the value of bottled water," said Jim Stevens, president of Suntory Water. He hopes the seal will help to grow the category and create a point of difference for Suntory's brands.

"That move could create higher credibility for the bottled water industry," said Michael Neuwirth, public relations manager for Great Brands of Europe, Greenwich, Conn., which markets Evian, the dominant imported non-sparkling water.

Consumers choose bottled water because it tastes better or seems safer than tap water, according to a survey conducted 10 months ago for the International Bottled Water Association. But fewer than 40% of non-drinkers of bottled water believe bottled water provides more consistent quality than does tap water.

Many consumers aren't aware that bottled water producers test their water against stringent standards set by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, IBWA, National Sanitation Foundation and most states, Mr. Stevens said.

Other brands could follow Suntory and apply for the GH seal, too. Getting the seal requires verification of a product's quality claims by the Good Housekeeping Institute. Hundreds of products receive the seal annually, according to a Good Housekeeping spokesman.

Suntory's ad agency, Bratskeir & Co., New York, has also created a second seal, to go on labels next year, which consists of a drop of water passing through several barriers- to demonstrate steps in the filtration process and communicate purity-and the word IMPASS, which stands for 1-Micron Purity Assurance Safety System.

Agency President Rob Bratskeir said the goal is to make IMPASS as recognizable in the water category as the NutraSweet symbol became among sweetened products.

Suntory, with about $170 million in sales, is is in a virtual tie for third-largest water company with two other companies, trailing No. 1 Perrier Group of America and No. 2 McKesson Water Products Co.

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