A Watershed Moment for Mountain Valley Spring Company
By Dana Dratch
Package redesign helps 136-year-old water brand flood new channels.
Mountain Valley Spring Company has long targeted the home and office delivery market. But a recent packaging redesign, intended to reinvigorate the 136-year-old water brand, is heralding a move into restaurants and high-end grocery stores.
New bottle designs play off the brand’s original green glass packaging. Rendered now in both plastic and glass, the bottles echo one of the company’s 1930s-era silhouettes and feature art nouveau-style designs on the labels. Both were developed by Flowdesign, the Detroit brand identity firm.
The revamp of Mountain Valley can be compared to the primping before a big party. With new packaging in place, the brand now appears in well-known restaurant venues like Ted Turner’s Montana Grill and on the shelves of premium retailers like Whole Foods, along with a number of independent restaurants and grocery stores.
“We are in a lot more locations,” says Jim Karrh, the company’s chief marketing officer. “Packaging played an important role.”
Glass and plastic
Three years ago, when company leaders decided to redesign the packaging, they started with their mainstay: the one-liter glass bottle.
“We needed that glass bottle to connect to our authenticity and heritage,” says Karrh.
Dan Matauch of Flowdesign says the company was looking for a concept that was “a combination of retro and contemporary—the heritage of what the bottles looked like in the 1800s,” along with a “contemporary feel.”
To achieve that, the design team kept the brand’s signature green glass and opted for a silhouette similar to a Mountain Valley bottle from the 1930s.
But they encountered an obstacle that wasn’t around for the brand in the era when Herbert Hoover was president—standard-sized retail shelves. “We had to keep the profile under 12 inches,” Matauch recalls. “And we were limited on diameter.”
Because the new labels would be silk-screened directly onto the glass, the team was also limited by color—three colors to be exact. So they eliminated the gold on existing labels and focused on red, white and green.
The green, darker than the glass itself, is used for subtle mountain images that have been a background staple on Mountain Valley bottles for some time.
Flowdesign also embossed the shoulder with the phrase “Since 1871”, a touch that Matauch says is borrowed from premium liquor packaging. The half-liter and third-of-a-liter sizes are identical versions, simply scaled down.
In contrast to its glass bottles, the brand’s new plastic versions have “more of a contemporary feel,” according to Matauch, who says they have a “barbell-like shape.” The recyclable green PET bottles sport a film-wrap label bearing the same green mountains found on the glass versions and a very large Mountain Valley logo.
“Everything is carried over the from the glass bottle, we just went with a little different color green,” Matauch says.
With plastic, the designers were also able to style a three-dimensional relief of a mountain motif along the top and bottom of the bottle. The PET bottles come in half-liter and 1 1/2-liter sizes. A one-liter size will likely be released next year, according to Karrh.
Prior to the redesign, Mountain Valley talked with restaurant owners and managers about what they wanted in a water bottle. For instance, restaurants frequently have to chill and rechill a bottle several times before it’s served. And that can be hard on a paper label.
That’s why Mountain Valley went from a paper label to silk-screened labels on the glass bottles—another touch borrowed from premium beverages. “It’s very durable,” says Karrh. Restaurants need the bottles “to look good for their guests.”
A tradition that customer research revealed as a must-have? The brand's tradition with glass.
While the company introduced plastic bottles in the mid-1990s, and it even owns its own plastics company, Mountain Valley reports that glass is still the number one choice for the water. “Glass is, and will continue to be, our focus,” says Karrh. “That is where we have a unique niche.”
The redesigned glass bottles now sport a metal cap, because “a lot of the purists don’t want any plastic in the package,” Karrh says.
The design team agrees that glass is good for the brand. Mountain Valley “is trying to go after the premium upscale market, and glass is always considered premium,” says Matauch. “You don’t see ultra premium vodka in plastic containers.”
David vs. Goliath
While Mountain Valley is one of the oldest water companies in the country, there is also a little bit David vs. Goliath in its story.
According to Beverage Marketing Corp., the American public consumed $11 billion worth of bottled water last year—the vast majority from brands backed by major consumer packaged goods companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Nestle, with vast distribution networks.
With bottled water, “availability is key,” says Gary Hemphill, managing director of Beverage Marketing Corp. “If it’s not in your particular store, you’re probably not going to walk across the street.”
That makes it more challenging for independent companies like Mountain Valley, he says. “It gets increasingly difficult for a smaller company to compete because price is such an important component,” he says. “If your volume is smaller, it becomes more difficult.”
But the company does have some advantages, Hemphill says.
“Mountain Valley is a venerable brand,” he explains. “It has a fairly high degree of brand equity in a category that isn’t known for brand equity.”
And while it has a track record, the company is also recognized for a cutting edge approach, according to Stephen Kay, vice president of communications for the International Bottled Water Association. “[Mountain Valley] is viewed as a duality—with a long history and tradition but a leading edge in marketing and use of technology and safety,” he says.
Mountain Valley also has a faithful following among consumers, earning a reported $60 million in revenue last year. Though that’s not enough to keep the company content.
“We need to expand on that,” says Karrh.
He says that it takes time to take the product from almost delivery-only to something consumers can select from a store shelf or restaurant menu. For the retail market, the company is reaching out to distributors that stock the natural and organic food stores. They also are partnering with beer distributors to supply both retailers and restaurants.
“We’re very excited that we’ll have Mountain Valley available throughout almost all of the country through three channels, not just one,” says Karrh.
The company is banking on the fact that if the product is out there—in stores and restaurants—consumers will do the rest.
“It’s a grass roots effort,” says Karrh.
That also applies to the brand’s marketing support. You might have noticed the docs from Grey’s Anatomy clustered around the brand’s distinctive water cooler as they discuss trauma (both medical and personal).
It’s no coincidence. Karrh, a Ph.D., is a former university professor who has researched product placement. He says that, in the coming years, you should expect to see more of the water on the big and small screens.
One thing you won’t see: televisions spots. Instead, the company plans to connect with consumers through specialized advertisements in health and food magazines.
Mountain Valley knows that its customers range from young buyers to Baby Boomers, but it doesn’t define them that way. Instead, the company targets a “lifestyle and benefits group,”
According to Karrh, Mountain Valley is focusing on consumers “who are interested in health and good-tasting waters.”
The author, Dana Dratch, is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.
Where to go for more information...
• Brand identity and package design. At Flowdesign, contact Dan Matauch at 248.349.7250 or visit www.flow-design.com.
• Market research. At Beverage Marketing Corp., contact Gary Hemphill at 646.313.1958 or visit ww.beveragemarketing.com.
• Glass industry. At the Glass Packaging Institute, call 703.684.6359 or visit www.gpi.org.
• Bottled water industry. At the International Bottled Water Association, contact Stephen Kay at 703.647.4609 or visit www.bottledwater.org.