Turning Commodities into Branded Products – Bottled Water

In 2013, the bottled water market was valued at $157.27 billion USD and it is expected to reach $276.65 billion USD in 2020, according to a report published by Transparency Market Research. Furthermore, new suppliers in Asia affirm that bottled water is a growing industry in the continent, particularly in the Asia Pacific region, which accounted for 41 percent of sales in 2015, according to Zenith International.

The increased demand for bottled water is mainly due to a shift in consumer preference toward healthier beverages. Soda has a high sugar and caffeine content, whereas water contains no calories and is just as convenient to carry.

However, purchasing bottled water is no longer a simple process. Consumers have a huge number of choices, ranging from still water to spring water, convenience store brands to artisanal products. How did bottled water rise from a simple commodity to a product associated with prestige and status?

To understand the answer to this question, we will look at four companies that have expertly created a brand image and compelling story for their bottled water. Even though the focus of all of these brands has been to emphasize their water’s quality, each has also managed to appear distinct in their local market and the wider world beyond.

Santa Vittoria

Italy is renowned for its food and drink, everything from wine and soda to water. Created by the Cantarella Brothers, a third-generation Italian-Australian family, Santa Vittoria had to appear distinct while being recognisably Italian. By using the 19th century painting The Birth of Venus on its label, Santa Vittoria declares that its product is far more than a commodity; rather, itisan icon of Italian elegance and glamour.

As most other brands use mainly modern designs (Pellegrino and Pangea are two examples), this design on the Santa Vittoria bottles enables the brand to stand out in a populated market. In Australia, Santa Vittoria has already gained good footing in the competitive $500 million AUD bottled water industry.

Although the product remains for sale in supermarkets, the Cantarella Brothers recently began pursuing a strategy to position the Santa Vittoria brand as the finest Italian mineral water available and are now distributing the product to award-winning restaurants, cafés, and top international hotels. They are also working with leading fashion, food, and lifestyle brands to ensure Santa Vittoria projects an aspirational image.

Santa Vittoria has continued to use the same painting on its label, but the brand has been unafraid to alter other elements of the design. Changes to colours and turning the oil painting digital have helped to rejuvenate image and draw new attention to the brand.

The key takeaway here: Don’t be afraid of already-saturated markets. With the correct strategy, you can create a brand image that is unique.

Fujiseisui (Japan)

Founded in 2010, Fujiseisui entered an industry about to undergo a big transformation. The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami led to a spike in demand for bottled water, a trend that remained after the events. But, with around 450 brands of Japanese mineral water onthe market, there was neither a shortage of competition nor an easy way for suppliers toturn the commodity into a distinct product.

Fujiseisui was one of the successful brands. Using the national symbol of a sunset of the peak of Mount Fuji, Fujiseisui designed their water to become an iconic Japanese product overseas while identifiable and deeply personal at home. The image also reminds consumers that, rather than being the newest item to hit the market, the product is timeless.

Additional efforts to market the product have included placing Fujiseisui at the forefront ofJapan’s sustainability debate. Information on the company website, in both Japanese and English, explains how the brand is a leading company in sustainable water sourcing.

Much like Santa Vittoria, Fujiseisui has successfully grown its brand within an already-dense marketplace. The lesson to learn from here: When a market is packed with similar products to your own, connect with consumers by using national symbols and addressing public concerns.

Mountain Valley Water (USA)

Mountain Valley is a well-known brand within the bottled water industry, but it owes its success to a bold start. The brand proclaimed their water to be the best in the world from the outset and claimed that American sources of water are of equal quality to those inEurope. Since 1871, Mountain Valley has been sourcing its water from Hot Springs, Arkansas and now markets its product as the oldest bottled water brand in the United States.

The ageless quality of Mountain Valley has proved crucial, allowing the company brand the product as essential, earthy, authentic American water in the domestic market. Through a combination of natural growth and direct marketing, consumers view Mountain Valley as a part of American culture — and the water has been preferred choice of the White House since the 1920s. When American consumers buy Mountain Valley, they buy into a story ofnational identity and progress.

Throughout its history, Mountain Valley has positioned its water as consistent, enduring, and never-changing. This image was heightened during a bottle redesign in 2006. Whereas most companies strive to update their labels, Mountain Valley reverted to a design from the 1930s, enhancing the brand image ofan historic American product. The prestige associated with the brand allows Mountain Valley to sell packs of 12 bottles of 1 litre for $34.95 USD.

The takeaway: Be mindful ofhow your brand can accrue value over the long term when itidentifies with culture and history.

Krystal (China)

Many bottled water brands simply name the region where they source their water. Heilongjiang-based Krystal offers an abundance of information on its website, describing the area and the unique purity of the water, going to great lengths to describe sourcing and purification. In this way, the brand is able to appeal to those who would not usually buybottled water due to price but who are concerned about water pollution in China.

Although Krystal began as a luxury item, there are increasing signs (including a recent signing of a promotional deal with Gap) the brand will soon refine its strategy to become more mid-market. At $52.64 USD for 24 bottles of 380 millilitres, itis currently good value for the wealthy and affordable for the working class, a balance that allows the commodity todevelop as a brand. Finding this middle ground has been key to Krystal’s growth in this developing country.

Krystal’s main domestic competitor is Tibet 5100, a brand founded by the billionaire Fu Lin. However, controversy about Tibet combined with the suspicion from many consumers about Lin’s huge accumulation of wealth has so far given Krystal the upper hand.

The story of Krystal reminds ustobe aware both of immediate market demand and broader cultural implications. This is particularly important in China, where change is happening rapidly asto make the future is uncertain. By cherishing both natural wealth and resources, Krystal is well-positioned to grow inany circumstances.

Many people think that bringing a commodity to market to transform into a brand requires complexity and diversification. Yet, the above brands all show that a simple idea tied with local identity will often lead to success.