Global Brands vs. Local Brands in Puerto Rico

Although tap water is arguably one of the safest ways to drink water in the United States, Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth and tropical island in the Caribbean, doesn’t benefit from the same drinkable water quality. Puerto Rico has actually been struggling with tap water quality for a long time. Although beautiful rivers, creeks and man-made lakes provide a good source of water, there is only a limited amount of places where water can be gathered and serve as a source for drinking. A recent article from Puerto Rico’s prestigious business publication, the Caribbean Business, said that water standards on the island are in accord with those indicated for tap water quality by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, the article, which includes quotes from an interview with Carl Soderberg, the director of the Caribbean environmental protection division of the EPA, explains how the water quality standards could definitely be improved. Because of this notion of water quality that is well known to Puerto Ricans, families currently resort primarily to water bottles as the main source of drinking. An even more interesting fact that was stated in the publication’s article is that many people judge from the increase in water bottling plants in Puerto Rico that local water quality is bad. Because of this issue, local water bottle brands such as Cristalia have forever strived in the water market in Puerto Rico, making more and more consumers attracted to water bottles instead of tap, even though the bottled water’s quality might not be as clean and pure as they think. A direct quote from the Caribbean Business’s article comments on this issue by including a previous water bottler’s opinion gathered in an interview. It states, “ ‘Some water bottling companies–not all–package water directly from the tap, others from a well, and sometimes without any sort of purification process,’ said a veteran water bottler who preferred to remain anonymous.” 

Water bottling companies are really starting to have a significant influence in society, not only in Puerto Rico, but also in the United States. According to a recent study of the U.S. water bottle market conducted by agency ProChile in Los Angeles, the U.S. is the largest water bottle-consuming country in the world. It states how 32.5 millions of liters were sold in 2008. These figures are impressive, especially because many states, if not most, have noticeably high quality tap water. The Great Lakes place the U.S. in a very privileged position, as they are one of the main bodies of water that provide to households. One would consequently think that people prefer tap water if their quality is arguably more pristine than that of most water bottles. The question thus becomes, why do consumers prefer water bottles? Is it a question of convenience, ignorance of tap water quality, or great marketing communications from water bottling companies?

These strategies and communications campaigns conducted by large water bottlers are significantly changing consumers perspectives on water and increasingly changing behaviors, a problem that is becoming of great interest to many in a society that is now turning ‘green’ and environmentally conscious. Thus, it is important for us consumers to understand the impact water bottle brands have in our behaviors, and consider ways in which places such as Puerto Rico have become a target for increasing water bottle consumption.

Cristalia is one of Puerto Rico’s very own water bottle brands known for its quality and price. It has never needed to create big advertisement campaigns, as it has been one of the top sellers on the island since its beginnings. When the company started in 1986 in Ponce, Puerto Rico, its mission was to produce the highest quality water distinguishable from any other Puerto Rican company. As a result of tap water’s negative reputation for quality despite its acceptable standards, consumers began to rely on bottles as their main form of hydration. Global brands such as Coca-Cola have also begun to create different brand names and products to compete in the water bottle market in Puerto Rico. Even though the island’s government has made significant efforts to improve the water systems and create new water infrastructure projects through the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewage Authority (Prasa), including a $268 million investment, people continue to spend on water bottles and rely on preconceived notions about water bottle quality.

In this era of consumption and great media influence in consumers, where brands are successfully generating brand loyalty, there are several trends that have been arising within water bottle brands, particularly in Puerto Rico. By studying the competitive market and the increasing awareness of environmental consciousness, water bottle brands have a new goal. Now, it is not about making consumers buy water bottles instead of relying on tap water, it is about making consumers want their products because they identify with the brand message. Coca-Cola Puerto Rico Bottlers’s holding company, CC1, created a new Puerto Rican water bottle brand called ‘Nikini’ to compete with local water bottle brands. Even though Coca-Cola already has the ‘Dasani’ brand in the market, the company decided to create a new brand in 2011 and present it through an ‘eco-friendly’ branding strategy. This strategy aims to differentiate ‘Nikini’ water as a better alternative than other local Puerto Rican brands while still extracting its waters from different locations on the island just like its competition, Cristalia. Once the product was launched, articles such as those in the Caribbean Business newspaper commented on the question of whether or not the ‘differentiation strategy’ would successfully position ‘Nikini’ as the preferred water bottle. The article, titled “Betting on green,” describes the new water bottle’s features as follows, “Nikini is packaged in the company’s patented ‘Eco-Earth Bottle’ containing 35% less plastic than the rest of the bottles marketed in the category. Its pitch assures consumers they are buying ‘100% pure water, 100% Puerto Rican with minimal environmental impact’.”

Evidently, “eco-friendly” branding strategies have become key ways of reaching a large segment of Puerto Rican consumers. Other water bottle brands in the local market are struggling with the launch of this new product, which was only introduced a year ago. According to an article in Puerto Rico’s leading newspaper El Nuevo Día, more than 40 water bottle brands currently exist in Puerto Rico and all compete in a very large market. The journalist’s research shows that the water bottle market generates $30.7 millions a year.With the overwhelming amount of water bottle brands competing, it is evident that introducing yet another brand was a great challenge. However, CC1’s strategy was smart in creating an eco-friendly message. No other local water bottle brand had a ‘green’ message or even ‘green’ look, which is why in only a year since its launch ‘Nikini’ has become extremely popular among Puerto Ricans. Below is an example of a ‘Nikini’ advertisement:

Image(Photo retrieved from http://www.facebook.com/Nikinipr?fref=ts)

The brand’s tag line is, “El espíritu de la tierra,” which means “the spirit of the earth” in Spanish. It is a great attention grabber, and it truly embraces the brand’s message to connect consumers to the earth. It is marketed as, “water 100% pure, 100% Puerto Rican, with minimal environmental impact.” This marketing strategy successfully addresses the environmental issues in the minds of the consumers, as well as the water quality concerns that are frequently considered given Puerto Rico’s water quality situation. According to El Nuevo Día’s article on the product’s launch, the name “Nikini” comes from the words “ni” which means water, and “ki” which means spirit of the earth in Ahruaco, an indigenous language. An innovative aspect from this Puerto Rican brand is that Nikini’s message is not just to show its environmentally friendly practices, but to also make an emotional connection with consumers. This purified water comes from Puerto Rico’s natural and beautiful waters, and is made just Puerto Ricans. Another aspect that distinguishes the brand is its price. Despite the general assumption of eco-friendly products as expensive, a 24 pack of Nikini water bottles only costs $3.99.

It is clear that the world of marketing communications is being driven by a desire to address community and social concerns. Brands succeed by creating an emotional attachment with its consumers that consequently generates brand loyalty. In Puerto Rico, consumers want to know that they are drinking from their own waters, and from a brand that cares. Nikini ensured to embrace this idea through the brand’s image. The issue of water quality that has been of concern is also addressed in Nikini’s marketing message, which enforces the 100% purity of the water. However, this doesn’t change the fact that Puerto Rico’s water quality in tap water systems should be of equal concern to the community. I believe that Nikini’s goal to contribute to the environment by using eco-friendly practices and inspiring others to get involved is a great start on behalf of corporations in Puerto Rico to address current issues. With the power and influence that companies have, directing the majority of their efforts to help the planet will not only help their business succeed and progress, but also generate a trusting relationship with communities. The majority of brands that have a positive or well-known presence in Puerto Rico all come from the U.S. Nikini, being a local brand with such popularity, should now open doors to other local brands to start getting involved with the community and inspire consumers to do so as well. These corporate trends that involve environmental solutions should now start addressing tap water quality concerns. Instead of leaving it up to the government, company alliances can now try to continue their efforts towards improving tap water, a problem that will facilitate life in Puerto Rico once it is resolved.

 

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