Ferrarelle is a sparkling water brand popular in Italy but relatively unknown in the U.S. I interviewed Ron Salerno, director of Ferrarelle USA, about the product, the bottled water industry and the company’s plans to gain exposure in the U.S.
What sets Ferrarelle apart from other bottled waters?
Ferrarelle is the leading sparkling mineral water of Italy with the largest share of the market. It is also one of the most recognizable brand names in Italy. Ferrarelle’s brand equity in Italy is akin to that of the Coca Cola in that it embodies the Italian culture.
By a fluke of geology, Ferrarelle is naturally effervescent, meaning it comes out of the ground already sparkling. Most other brands of sparkling waters, including that most famous one from northern Italy, come out of the ground still (or flat) and are then artificially carbonated like soda. This makes their carbonation very strong and harsh while Ferrarelle has smaller bubbles and a much softer texture. Interestingly, when a fluid is carbonated, salt needs to be added to prevent a sour taste that is a by-product of the carbonation process. Of course when you add sodium to water, while it will neutralize the sourness, it will make the water, well…salty!
All mineral waters, including Ferrarelle, have some sodium in them because sodium is a natural mineral found in the earth. But Ferrarelle does not add more sodium to our water, which is why we encourage side-by-side taste tests. We are absolutely sure that you will find other mineral waters harsh and surprisingly salty when comparing them.
Ferrarelle recently signed deals with national distributors in the U.S. How do you plan to establish it in the U.S.?
Over the past few years Ferrarelle has been quietly developing our physical presence in America. By establishing Ferrarelle USA as a wholly owned division of Ferrarelle SpA, we invested in our own infrastructure to not only develop our distribution network and place the product but also to build our brand in the States.
Specifically, we feel that the brand should be built at the table of the best restaurants in “taste making” markets. Secondarily, shelf position in a very limited amount of independent specialty retailers gives the consumer some accessibility but also contributes to our brand development. How we do this is just good old traditional hard work!
Ferrarelle comes in glass bottles rather than the plastic bottles many bottled waters come in. Why? Do you think the bottled water industry as a whole may move toward glass as consumers focus on environmental issues?
Mineral water for on-premise consumption has always been in glass. Glass is not only more physically stable but it presents more elegantly on a table. Further, PET bottles actually allow gas to pass through it; therefore sparkling water will eventually lose its sparkle after some time.
From an environmental perspective, as consumers’ concerns grow I think the industry will respond in ways other than abandoning PET bottles. PET packaging changed the economics of the water business because it is a much more efficient package than glass. PET’s low cost and light weight and ease of handling will make it very difficult to replace in any meaningful way. However, I think water companies will respond to environmental and social concerns in other ways. In fact, Ferrarelle has been a leader in social responsibility long before it became a fashionable position to take. Some of the things that Ferrarelle does for people and the environment include:
- Ferrarelle’s bottling plant is solar powered.
- The Italian government has authorized Ferrarelle to be the authority preserving the pristine environmental conditions for 900 acres around the source of the water.
- Works with UNICEF providing clean water to several countries in Africa.
- IMPATTO ZERO (Zero Impact) – Ferrarelle’s carbon output for the months of April and May are calculated and offset by the planting of enough trees to negate this output.
- Use of recycled materials in all packaging.
- Support of Slow Food association.
What challenges are facing the bottled water industry?
Certainly concerns about the environment are the newest and biggest concern at the moment. But from a more practical perspective logistics and the cost of moving a heavy yet low intrinsic value product is always a challenge.
A further challenge is how the industry will maintain growth while so many people are struggling economically. Ferrarelle has been lucky because we are new and growth has come regardless of economic conditions, and we are proud to have added jobs in America last year. While the industry as a whole has seen growth slow the last few years I do think we have begun to see a slight improvement.
What factors do consumers seem most interested in when selecting a water (cost, taste, etc.)?
These factors will vary by segment of the water business. From the perspective of the premium imported mineral water segment where Ferrarelle participates, I really think taste matters first. When we present to a chef asking him to replace his current brand with Ferrarelle we simply do a side-by-side taste test. Chefs prefer to pair their food with a lower gas, less salty water. Ferrarelle, with its natural effervescence, just complements fine food — and wine too, for that matter — better than most other mineral waters.
Image courtesy of Colangelo & Partners Public Relations