LAS VEGAS -- Back in 1998, when John Zupo joined Nestle Waters North America in customer development, the company had a major hurdle to overcome. “Trying to convince retailers how big [the bottled-water category] was going to be was our main job,” he said. “People didn’t believe it was real.”
Eighteen years later, even with bottled water on the verge of becoming the largest beverage category in the United States, Zupo, now president of customer development and sales operations, said that task hasn’t changed much.
“We think water is still underdeveloped in a major way,” Zupo told CSP Daily News during an exclusive interview. “It’s just the beginning; water is growing [by] almost double digits across all channels.”
Nestle Waters’ quest to grow the category began simply. It introduced bottled water in PET packaging and began driving single-serve sales before its primary competitors ever tapped their first water spigot. Today, Zupo said, consumer trends are just catching up to the directions Nestle Waters was predicting a decade or more ago.
“Today, consumers are concerned about health, they want a convenience beverage they can drink on the go, and they want something they can drink more than one of,” he said. “The body needs 192 gallons of water a year to operate. That gives us a lot of room to grow.”
But the company has also stretched into other beverages categories that fall under its slogan of “healthy hydration”: sparking waters, flavored waters and iced teas.
“Consumers are looking for flavor, excitement, something they can drink all day. We felt like we were missing a large audience,” Zupo said. “But under the direction of healthy hydration, we have a very specific range in which we want to play. We’re not going to do anything that’s high-octane. You won’t see us getting into high-sugar categories.”
Instead, the future today looks like the recent relaunch of Perrier from a stuffy sparkling-water brand previously confined to a glass bottle into a fun, effervescent drink now available in multiple flavors and packaged in 100% recyclable PET bottles and even slim, 8.45-ounce cans.
“We had to look at how to evolve the brand to appeal to younger generations,” Zupo said. “We’ve made it a hipster brand.”
And having a hipster brand in a country where sparkling and seltzer waters are seeing a resurgence of interest is nothing to sneeze at. Meanwhile, bottled-water sales in convenience stores are expected to grow 47% from 2014 through 2019, according to Nielsen projections. And c-stores draw only 11% of total bottled-water dollars.
That bodes well for the growth of bottled-water sales in the c-store industry. And Zupo is anxious to have Nestle Waters North America lead the way.
“Eighteen years ago, I wanted to conquer the world,” Zupo said. “I still feel that way. There are a lot of places we can take beverages and bottled water.”