Five months after being pulled off store shelves, Perrier is back. But not all of its customers are.

The familiar pear-shaped bottles, labeled Nouvelle Production, have been on the market here for nearly six weeks after a two-month recall sparked by the discovery of tiny amounts of benzene in the mineral water.

Before its recent troubles, Perrier accounted for 14 percent of sparkling-water sales in the United States. Among imported bottled water brands, it had a 44 percent market share.

It's too early to tell if it will regain that share, since Perrier is still not available in many places. But if the Washington area -- its fifth-largest market -- is any indication, Perrier has a long road back in its reentry to the sparkling-water market.

Some local restaurants and hotels haven't bothered to put Perrier back on the menu, and Safeway supermarkets and area specialty stores say sales of the onetime market leader have declined dramatically.

Before the recall, the Safeway on Wisconsin Avenue in Cleveland Park sold about 100 cases of Perrier a day. Now, the norm is 50 cases, said store manager Charlie Cushman.

Sutton Place Gourmet in Bethesda sells only 20 percent to 30 percent as much Perrier as it did before the recall, said general manager Claude Mallinger. "People are afraid of the problem, and they also found there were other waters on the market," he said.

Renee Subrin, a spokeswoman for the Washington Hilton, said that during the recall the Washington and McLean Hiltons replaced Perrier with Evian, a noncarbonated water from France, and Quibell, a sparkling water from Roanoke. Neither hotel has reintroduced Perrier, she said.

"It's an awful lot of work to change your stock," Subrin said. If the hotels do decide to restock Perrier, Quibell probably will remain on the menu "because it's an American sparkling water," she said.

Le Pavillon restaurant switched to Quibell during the recall and has not gone back to Perrier, according to restaurant director Janet Cam. Customers still ask for Perrier, Cam said, "but it's a generic term like Kleenex, and customers aren't unhappy to get a substitute."

The recall may cost Perrier's U.S. branch, Perrier Group of America, $30 million in sales -- about one-fourth of last year's revenue, said company spokeswoman Jane Lazgin.

Source Perrier in February announced a worldwide recall of all Perrier when traces of benzene, a carcinogen, were discovered. The problem was traced to the charcoal filters through which Perrier filters the gas that it later adds to the water to give it its fizz, but the recall -- and the French company's confusing series of explanations for the contamination -- added up to a major marketing problem.

Perrier reappeared in the District on May 15, but only in the original, plain flavor. Perrier "with a twist" of fruit flavors, which accounts for 40 percent of the brand's sales, will be back by the end of the summer, Lazgin said.

The company expects sales to climb to 85 percent of pre-recall levels within 18 months and believes it is on schedule to reach that goal, Lazgin said. One reason for the long recovery is that restaurants and hotels, which comprise 30 percent of its business, take longer than supermarket chains for Perrier's sales force to reach, she said.

Sales figures recently compiled by Perrier Group show that Perrier is back in 67 percent of the District's restaurants, bars and hotels that served it before the recall, said Kim Jeffery, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Perrier Group. He said supermarket distributors and retailers largely remained loyal during the recall.

"Perrier is coming back, but slowly," said Martin Romm, a beverage analyst with First Boston Corp. in New York. "They have a credibility question to resolve with customers. They also have to fight a competitive battle with other waters that filled the gap."

To its competitors, most notably Evian and Quibell, Perrier's problems were a boon. Perrier Group of America itself took up some of the slack with its own nine domestic bottled waters, including the lower-priced Poland Springs, Arrowhead and Calistoga.

"{Perrier} wasn't around for quite a while, and people started picking up other brands. We sell 40 types of water here," said Safeway manager Cushman in Cleveland Park.

Roanoke-based Quibell was a prime beneficiary of Perrier's woes. "We're selling a thousand times more than what we sold before the recall," said company President Ronald Quibell. He said sales were especially strong in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia.

In the two months that Perrier was off the shelves, Quibell said, his company's sales skyrocketed to $12 million from the $1 million that had been forecast for the period. Since Perrier's return, sales have not fallen off, said Stephen Quibell, vice president of the company.

Perrier is fighting back with a $25 million marketing campaign, allocating $16 million to advertising and the rest for sponsoring events, such as the Sovran Bank Tennis Classic in the District.

The effort has focused on advertising rather than price promotions, Jeffery said. "Any price differences are being instituted by the retailers, and not by us," he said. However, Perrier does make routine price promotions four to six times a year, he said, and the company "will undoubtedly have one this summer."

So far, consumers have seen little of that. Giant spokesman Mark Roeder said Perrier prices are the same as before the recall: $1.09 for a 23-ounce bottle and $2.39 for four-pack of 11-ounce bottles. Sutton Place Gourmet's Mallinger said his store now charges $1.19 for a 23-ounce bottle of Perrier, compared with 99 cents before the recall.

For Perrier loyalists, however, ad blitzes and price promotions mean little. "We couldn't wait for it," said Martin Garbisu, manager of the Jockey Club at the Ritz-Carlton. "It's an item that's very much in demand."

Diana Damewood, manager of Dominique's restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue, said she didn't think her customers worried about Perrier's problems. "I don't think {benzene's} a problem," she said. "I had two Perriers today, and in fact it's such a good idea I think I'll have one now."