The Pepsi generation soon may be singing the Marseillaise if the Perrier marketing experts have their way.
Perrier, the tongue-chic favorite mineral water of the sipping elites of Europe and America, is shedding its aristocratic image - and easing its price - in major bid for a share of the U.S. drinking market.
Soon, the drink that has done for Vergeze, France, what Coors did for Golden, Colorado, will be available at supermarkets in six-packs. Perrier has hired Orson Welles to narrate TV commercials revealing to all the mystery behind the bubbles that make a glass of Perrier more than a glass of tap water.
For centuries, the water Perrier puts into 400 million bottles a year has been bubbling up from a spring near Nimes in Southern France. Each generation has had its share of "Perrier freaks," who become addicted to the drink's sparkly, tingly taste and its healthfulness.
Forklore has it that Hannibal rested his troops by the spring in 218 B.C. In 1863, Napoleon III ordered the water to be bottled "for the good of France."
More recently, Perrier's elegant green bottles, which are shaped like Indian clubs, have become commonplace in France, where bottled water is about 20 times more popular than in the U.S.
For most Americans, though, the drink still carries snob appeal. Its distribution here has been limited mostly to specialty shops and gourmet food stores which stock Perrier on shelves adjacent to the goose liver pate and caviar.
The price, too, has been in the exclusive range: 55 to 70 cents for the 11-ounce size, 80 cents to $1.10 for 23 ounces.
Using an aggressive United States distributor, Perrier is planning to market its water through major supermarket chains, as well as in smaller grocery stores, wine and spirits shops and health food and restaurant outlets. The campaign has already begun in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. A second wave is expected to reach Washington, Miami and Boston this month.
And at any moment, the price, according to company sources, should fall 20 to 30 per cent.
The major target of all this activity is not the $175 million U.S. bottled water market or the $200 million soda water market, but the $10 billion soft drink market. Perrier is gambling that Americans will abandon their sweet bellywashes for a drink that boasts no calories, no additives and no artificial flavorings.
"Our eating and drinking habits are improving in general," said Bruce Nevins, the 39-year-old American entrepreneur who had been selling Levis and Pony athletic shoes before taking charge of Perrier's U.S. blitz. "We are more concerned about what we take into our bodies. And there's a growing attraction to things that are natural."
Ads for Perrier will stress the drink's natural carbonation and its proven appeal, which together make it more real than Coke and the great, great, great granddaddy of the Pepsi Generation.
The drink not only quenches thirsts, but aids dieters and substituate well for soda water, the ads say. Some people, according to one company statement, even use the stuff to freshen their complexions (pour an ounce in an atomizer and spray it on right after applying make-up).