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Bottled water sales are bubbling, and likely will continue to rise as more Americans question the safety of municipal water supplies.

Consumers' concern over the purity of tap water, combined with an ongoing interest in physical fitness and a growing disenchantment with traditional carbonated soft drinks, buoyed supermarket sales of bottled water 13.8% in 1993, to a high water mark of $630.6 million, according to Nielsen Marketing Research.

"Consumers are becoming increasingly more skeptical," says Gary Gross, director of marketing, direct delivery, McKesson Water Products Co., which markets the Sparkletts brand. "Hardly a day goes by that people aren't concerned about the quality of their tap water."

With that belief, McKesson came out swinging in Sparkletts advertising and listed some of the contaminants in tap water, juxtaposing Sparkletts as "the source of pure water."

The TV and print campaign, from Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif., has run its course, but new ads from Sparkletts will follow the same strategy.

"We know the strategy is right on," says Mr. Gross.

Sparkletts' supermarket sales rose 6.9% during the year, behind the 15%-to-20% growth experience by other top brands, but ahead of the 2.8% growth charted by its main-and much larger-rival Perrier Group of America's Arrowhead Mountain Spring.

Nationally, bottled water sales are expected to grow to 3.8 billion gallons by 2002, a 69% increase over 1992 levels, due in large part to brand proliferation, according to Beverage Marketing Corp., an industry researcher and consultancy.

Marketers are expected to step up advertising and promotional activities proportionately.

Great Brands of Europe, marketer of No. 1 Evian Natural Spring Water, this year will begin is first major marketing effort for Volvic Natural Spring Water, a premium brand it acquired from Perrier Group last year.

Ads from Merkley Newman Harty, New York, are likely to give Volvic a more outdoorsy, individualistic appeal than that enjoyed by its urbane sister brand, Evian.

Likewise, Perrier Group is expected to boost ad spending for Deer Park Spring Water, a virtually unsupported brand when the marketer acquired it from Clorox Co. in September.

Including Deer Park, Perrier Group owns six of the top 10 brands, representing a 26.8% market share, and 14 brands total.

The only top 10 brand with declining sales was Perrier Group's flagship Perrier brand, which never recovered from a 1990 recall.

Despite Perrier Group's efforts to revitalize the brand with a TV campaign from Publicis, New York, Perrier may be lagging behind consumers' taste for uncarbonated beverages. "The shakeout in cola is in part a shakeout against carbonation," says Tom Pirko, president of consultancy BevMark.

For still waters, Mr. Pirko agreed that playing up their purity in contrast to tap water is "probably the most effective weapon long term."

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