Talking to BeverageDaily.com as we toured the Perrier source and factory at Vergèze, near Nimes in Southern France, Rouger (site manager now for three years, listen to a podcast with him here) discussed the growing importance of cans for the brand.
“Last year we launched our famous 250ml slim can [pictured] and now we are producing around 100m of this new format. It’s been a huge success. For the moment it’s only distributed in the US and Canada, and will launch in France next year with some differences. But the shape will stay the same,” Rouger (pictured) said.
Perrier is a unique brand in France, Rouger said, since most other sparkling water brands bought CO2 to add to natural mineral water, but the geological situation in Vergèze means that the water comes to the surface already slightly carbonated, from CO2 emitted onsite around 400-500m underground.
“That means we have different wells – some dedicated to waters, others dedicated to CO2 or gas. We mix both just before bottling. Just before bottling we have a process to mix liquid and gas,” Rouger said.
“The water we extract is a little bit sparkling already. But if we want to stabilize the process we need to reinforce with CO2 from other wells.”
Adjacent Owens-Illinois site supplies glass bottles
(Standard Perrier contains 7g CO2/liter, compared with 5.5g for its Nestlé Waters stable mate St. Pellegrino and 3.5g for French rival Badoit, while ‘Blue Perrier’ or Perrier Fine Bulles contains 4.5g.)
“Perrier is a good alternative to sugary soft drinks, because we have zero sugar and zero calories, and low levels of sodium. You will talk to our marketing department, who can better explain this. But the main marketing support for the drink is that it had the ideal composition for refreshment,” Rouger said.
Discussing the layout at the massive Vergèze site, which employs 890 staff and covers 60 hectares, Rouger explained that the main factory is split into two bottling units, with three areas for storage/shipments.
The massive site can store up to 53,000 pallets – necessary since Perrier production will hit 1.1bn bottles and cans (circa.200m/year) at the end of 2013 – and 800,000 are shipped annually.
Within the factory itself, 10 bottling lines comprise one for cans, three for one-way glass bottles (200ml, 330ml, 750ml) and four for returnable glass bottles (330ml) used in French restaurants and bars.
PET pre-forms (500ml, 1 liter) are blown within the factory, while glass bottles are supplied by an adjacent Owens-Illinois (O-I) site at Vergèze – sold by Perrier in 2005 – directly onto the line.
Support for organic wine production
Clearly, protecting the Perrier source is crucial for the brands continued success, and Rouger said the brand had agreements with local farmers covering 3,500 hectares (1,000 of which is owned by Perrier) where pesticides and chemicals are not used.
“That’s why I think the Cave Co-Operative de Vergèze is one of the biggest in terms of biological wines. I think one of the biggest in Europe,” Rouger explained.
Discussing Perrier’s priorities as a Nestlé company, Roger said: “We’re very aware of quality and safety. In addition Perrier is a premium brand and we know that our product is shipped around world, and we must be very careful about the quality of the finished product.”
Staff safety and quality product were the two most important priorities, he added, where the latter meant more than water quality alone (assured by an onsite laboratory) but also bottles, labels and cases, etc.
Packaging quality is crucial given that 52% of Perrier produced at Vergèze is shipped abroad (to 145 countries: the site produces 200+ SKUs) from Marseille.
“Transportation time can last up to six weeks for Perrier shipped to the west coast of the US, for example. We have to ensure the right level of quality when the bottle arrives at the shop,” Rouger said