INTERNATIONAL. Evian is increasingly being seen as a ‘pure play’ lifestyle brand that is extending outside its traditional borders: think detox campaigns and sun-drenched sports fans mingling with Evian models while they cool off with a refreshing spray from the Limited Edition Evian Brumisateurs.
On the eve of the Middle East launch of the Evian Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture special edition, BI-ME talks to Danone zone director for the Middle East and Indian Ocean Elias Fayad.
Fashion designers endorsing various lifestyle products and collaborating with other merchants is now commonplace. That said, it will come as a surprise to some branding experts to discover that the higher echelons in the industry are teaming up with fashion's favourite diet food, water. Christian Lacroix designed an exclusive water bottle for Evian and, this week, the Gaultier version will be released in the Middle East. You won't catch a fashion woman with a bottle of supermarket own-brand, so it only seems right to imagine that fashion is the best place to find ‘heavy users’ who also care about the aesthetics.
Bottled since 1826, Evian Natural Spring Water is the world's number one brand of premium natural spring water. Every drop of Evian takes over 15 years to filter through mineral rich glacial sands in the pristine French Alps. Bottled at the source in a state of the art facility, Evian comes from the Cachat Spring located on the southern shore of Lake Geneva, in the town of Evian-les-Bains. Evian provides a uniquely balanced mineral composition and subtle flavor as a product of its unhurried journey.
Today, Evian is a brand of the Danone Group, a leader in the food industry and number one by volume in the world for packaged water and dairy products. Evian first entered international markets in the late 1970s, being served in the finest bars and restaurants in distinctive glass bottles, and is now accepted as the most premium natural spring water for those, including many of Hollywood's elite, who like to treat themselves to the very best.
At the corporate level, Danone has been focusing its efforts on becoming the world’s leading supplier of added-value healthy food and beverages, having recently divested biscuits and other products to Kraft. It is present in Iran with the Damavand water brand and Danone Hayat water in Turkey, as well as Evian. Its other main product lines include the Activia dairy and daily consumption products, baby foods under the Nutricia and other brands for senior citizens as well as a professional line. The Safi-Danone factory in Saudi Arabia is the biggest dairy farm in the world.
With the Middle East being a relatively recent market for premium bottled-at-source water brands, and being dominated by huge volumes and huge per-capita consumption of bulk bottled water – living in a desert as we do – we asked Danone zone director for the Middle East and Indian Ocean Elias Fayad about Evian’s unique formula for adding value.
BI-ME: Given that the UAE and most of the Gulf countries are quite unique in the world with their very high consumption of bottled water, could you give us an introduction to how Evian fits into the market?
EF: Yes it is true that the UAE’s bottled water consumption is historically high and it is used for food and tea preparation with many bulk water suppliers. If we speak about premium international brands, then they are only about 5% of the market by volume, but the Middle East area is one of the fastest-growing markets for Evian in the world.
Quoting Zenith’s published figures, I can tell you that Evian is at about 1.6 billion to 1.7 billion litres, so it is not a big brand globally by volume. The Gulf is obviously a smaller market than France or the UK or other important Evian markets like Japan and the US. But Evian is present in more than 140 countries so it is the most international water brand.
BI-ME: Evian was present everywhere at Dubai Fashion Week in October, as sponsor for the first time. As a brand it also has some very interesting celebrity associations, can you explain about these initiatives and how do they add value?
EF: Since last year we have been working with Christian Lacroix on the limited edition Haute Couture bottles. We are just about to launch the Jean Paul Gaultier edition for 2009.
The Lacroix bottles have already sold out successfully through top hotels, restaurants and nightclubs as well as select stores such as Harvey Nichols. Since the actual water is already perfected by years of filtering in the French Alps, and it is untouched by human hand, these special bottles are a way of giving something extra to the customer.
What we are doing is a way of improving the package. The brand is already established, but these activities are a way to help us generate PR and it defines that Evian can do what other brands cannot do.
BI-ME: Can you give us any pointers as to where this type of marketing may go in the future? Can you envisage Evian tying up with any events in the Middle East or are there other new ideas in process?
EF: I can give you a sneak preview for later this year, when we will be working with another designer, not French, but an Italian designer for the limited edition bottle. I cannot disclose who it is but I can say that it is a very big name. What we are saying is that we want to own this spirit of health associated with beauty. As I said some of our customers are going to exclusive places and they want a certain experience. They want to feel unique.
We are starting with Jean Paul Gaulter now, which will stay for the Winter, until mid-June. Then the Summer collection will stay until the end of the year.
Evian is also using its marketing associations to raise money for charities, such as the auction of special Cristal decanter Evian presentation for the Elton John charity concert in Los Angeles. This raised US$20,000 and another auction in Saudi Arabia raised US$43,000. Another similar sale raised US$23,000 for Dubai Autism Centre. Globally Evian has collected more than US$200,000 through these actions. We are saying that as a luxury product, it is appropriate for us to try to get a little more money, and to divert that to the charities.
BI-ME: Recalling the ‘tear-drop’ special edition bottles, are there plans for any other new formats or new packaging?
EF: This year we will start shipping with a new 0.5 litre bottle from recycled PET. This is a move to reduce our carbon footprint and we will be among the first to use recycled PET. Danone has an ambitious target that it wants to be carbon neutral by 2009 and this is no marketing gimmick.
BI-ME: In the big picture of the beverage market, healthy drinks like juices and water or iced tea seem to come out well in the market research and they gaining market share over some sweet, carbonated drinks. To what extent does Evian compete with other beverages or is it purely a brand that fits itself into the trend toward a healthy lifestyle?
EF: In price Evian can be more expensive than Coke or Pepsi and on the other hand a purified water from the sea like some of the local water brands. Overall the premium, imported water segment is picking up due to the success and the quality of Evian.
Evian has to go through 300 separate tests on the product, which gives the customer reassurance. As a company we invest in the protection of the environment and in the protection of our acquifer, which is what gives the product purity and quality. We have set up the Evian Institute which is on the label of the product and which is active in the area of research and water protection. So Evian is one of those brands that is helping the country and the environment where it is. Part of our job is to explain this to the consumer, that Evian is a pure bottled-at-source product, as distinct from a processed water brand.
This is also an issue about regulation, because as the regulations apply to the Middle East, a producer can put an image of a mountain on his bottle, even if this has nothing to do with the brand.
BI-ME: So you are making the point that Evian is a unique product, with all the elements of a real history and an authenticity that consumers are looking for these days. In view of this, what would you say is the competition for Evian?
EF: A brand like Evian competes with the local and imported brands, with water in the narrow sense, and believe it or not with soda and other natural and healthy products. For me it is more about lifestyle, because our brand touches on people’s understanding of life, and their diet. For many people consuming Evian is a lifestyle choice, and they use it when they want to change their lifestyle and to make a statement about their lifestyle and even to help them lose weight.
BI-ME: Since your territory covers the whole Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent, could we take a virtual tour of some of these markets? Which ones are important for Evian and which ones are emerging?
EF: The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain are key markets for us and we have a big placement. We also have to be logical with a brand like Evian and look to these countries which have a relatively young population, mostly with a high income.
In these markets there are relatively few sources of local, extractable water, which will continue to benefit us in the long term. Even the local companies here, which are extracting natural water are doing so in such a way as to make profit now, with little consideration for the environment later.
BI-ME: Evian entered the Indian market in 1999, which some people said was too soon, and after bursts of advertising, the branding activity went underground until recently. Behind closed doors, Danone switched distributors in 2003, and everyone is saying that India is a market with fantastic potential, but also fantastic challenges. How do you view India now?
EF: I see India as a continent rather than as a country, so in this sense it will take time for us to build there. As a luxury product we are being selective and we are focusing on key cities. So we will be focusing on horeca [hotel-restaurant-catering] and this is where we will build the brand.
Evian is not in India to become number one. The plan is to be available when customers look for Evian and to be the best reference for quality bottled water. Evian creates its own market, so it will take time to build brand awareness among Indian consumers.
See also www.evian.com