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Perrier Group of America is thirsting for some of Evian's business.

Though it controls 25% of the total $3.1 billion bottled-water market in the U.S., Perrier, a division of Nestle Sources International, hasn't been a player in the premium-price non-sparkling segment. Evian, with a total market share of 5%, dominates that segment with more than a 50% share.

Last week, Perrier launched Valvert, a non-sparkling water from Belgium, in Dallas, Miami and western Canada test markets. Valvert, which prominently features the Perrier logo on its label, will be sold in 0.5-liter and 1.5-liter bottles and priced comparably to Evian.

Perrier's goal is to make Valvert a national brand by the end of 1996.

"I wouldn't exactly say we're going after Evian," said Jeff Caso, VP-marketing for Perrier. "Joining is a better word .*.*. We want to join them in growing the market."

While the total U.S. bottled-water market, including sparkling, non-sparkling and bulk sales, grew a healthy 9.6% in 1994, sales in the non-sparkling PET segment have been skyrocketing. PET denotes the clear plastic bottles in which Evian, Valvert and other brands are sold.

Domestic brands, which account for 75% of the segment, grew 32% in '94, according to Beverage Marketing Corp., New York. Beverage Marketing doesn't break out statistics for the premium or import portion of the segment. Premium brands are priced about twice as high as domestics.

"It certainly makes sense for Perrier" to launch Valvert, said Hellen Berry, VP-market research for Beverage Marketing. "The growth right now is in the small-size PET non-sparkling brands. I think it's a positive move."

"We're not surprised [Perrier] would want to try to break into this part of the market, given the substantial growth of PET," said Paul Block, VP-marketing for Great Brands of Europe, which markets Evian. "We feel that additional [ad] spending in the market will help to increase awareness of Evian and the whole market."

Perrier tried to break in several years ago with a premium import called Volvic but sold Volvic to Evian in 1992 to settle anti-trust concerns in Europe. Volvic wasn't marketed under the Perrier name.

Perrier's flagship sparkling brand has never recovered from a benzene scare that forced a nationwide product recall in 1990. The brand's share of the total bottled-water market was 1.8% in 1994, down from 4.4% in 1989.

Most of Perrier Group's share comes from its 13 regional domestic bottled waters, including Arrowhead and Poland Springs.

Perrier will support the Valvert test markets with print and TV advertising, in-store and radio promotions, premiums, event sponsorships and public relations. Advertising started in Miami Aug. 21 and begins in Dallas Sept. 4.

Publicis/Bloom, New York, which also handles the Perrier brand, created the print and TV ads. Mr. Caso declined to reveal the ad budget.

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