Perrier has had a presence in the U.S. since the beginning of the 20th century, but demand for the French bottled water started to increase during the mid-1970s, when health-conscious Americans began switching from soft drinks to mineral and other bottled waters. In 1981, French-controlled Source Perrier began to use the tagline "Earth's first soft drink" for its Perrier water.
During the late 1970s and '80s, Source Perrier promoted its water via sponsorship of events, such as the Olympic Games in 1984. In 1985, the company introduced Perrier with a Twist, a lemon-and-lime drink.
Waring & LaRosa won the Perrier account in 1981 after Perrier dropped Mathieu, Gerfen & Bresner. In 1986, Source Perrier moved the account to Hal Riney & Partners, then a new agency.
Perrier continued to grow in sales until February 1990, when the company voluntarily recalled its product in the U.S. because of benzene contamination introduced in the bottling process, eliminating Perrier from the market for four months. While the U.S. Food & Drug Administration ruled the benzene harmless, Perrier wanted to avoid appearing to be unconcerned to consumers, as benzene was a suspected carcinogen. At the time, the cost to Source Perrier was estimated to be around $200 million, plus losses to the brand's equity and market share.
In July 1990, Perrier faced another setback when the FDA made the company drop the words "naturally sparkling" from its labels on grounds that the term was misleading.
In an attempt to regain consumer confidence and market share, Perrier developed an art contest, inviting amateur artists to create a new package design. In conjunction with the promotion, Perrier launched a campaign themed "The art of refreshment." At the same time, Perrier moved its account back to Waring & LaRosa.
In 1992, W&L again lost the mineral water account (although it retained other brands marketed by Perrier Group), this time to Publicis/Bloom, a new unit of Publicis.
Publicis/Bloom created a campaign that featured an "art bottles" approach. Five years later, Perrier consolidated its global account at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, whose Paris office had won the grand prize at the 1991 International Advertising Festival in Cannes for a French ad for Perrier. The agency was given an estimated $50 million for an international campaign and assigned both creative and media duties.
Bought by Nestl?
Nestl? S.A. purchased Perrier in 1992 for about $2.8 billion. To handle its bottled waters, Nestl? formed Nestl? Source International, later renamed Perrier Vittel S.A.
At the turn of the century, Source Perrier was the leading supplier of bottled water in France. Perrier was also one of the best-selling imported sparkling waters in the U.S. The Perrier Group of America, a division of Nestl? created in 1992, had numerous brands in addition to Perrier, including Arrowhead, Calistoga, Deer Park, Ozarka, Vittel and Zephyrhills. It had the largest market share in North America, almost three times that of its closest competitor, Suntory.
In 2001, the Perrier Group of America renamed itself Nestl? Waters North America to align with Perrier Vittel's name change to Nestl? Waters. The unit accounts for 9% of Nestl?'s revenues.
A spat between Perrier?s union and Nestl? bubbled up in late 2003 over retirement benefits that reportedly could put Nestl?'s No. 4 volume water brand at risk of being sold. Nestl? was struggling to turn a profit on the brand, but it still stood to benefit from a delay by rival Coca-Cola Co. to launch a mineral water version of Dasani. Meanwhile, Perrier began testing new products in plastic bottles rather than its famous green glass containers.