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Despite a flood of value-price regional and private label players in the bottled water market, PepsiCo's Aquafina remains the leading national brand.

Growing its share to 17.8% of the market has been no small feat for Steve Sears, VP-non-carbonated soft drinks, and his team at Pepsi-Cola North America.

Mr. Sears credits Pepsi' bottlers for getting the 8-year-old brand to critical mass distribution and says his team added carbonated soft-drink marketing expertise and applied it to the brand.

While he says Aquafina continues to tweak its purity position, pricing has been a constant challenge in a category overflowing with local and regional players locked in a price battle.

"If you're not positioned uniquely, you get caught up in a price war," says Mr. Sears, 42, who joined the beverage division two years ago after 14 years with PepsiCo's Frito-Lay unit. "When we don't let price hold us back from closing the share gap, we really start to blow the competitor away. That tells us our brand is already stronger than"established brands.

Pepsi this spring launched its first national media-supported promotion for the brand called "Pure Luck," backed by ads via Omnicom Group's Element 79 Partners, Chicago. John Sicher, editor-publisher of Beverage Digest, agrees that Pepsi has done a good job in "blocking and tackling" behind the brand, adding that package differentiation has also been a key tactic. He says Aquafina continues to grow in the 30% range in supermarkets, continues to gain share and holds onto its lead in the category.

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