Life seems pretty good for Peter Thomas at the moment. He has just been
promoted to director northern and eastern Europe.
He is married to a former Norwegian catwalk model who also happens to be
his boss. And their joint water empire counts for 14% of the world’s
bottled water market and all its two key brands are seen as essential
But it has not always been so easy for Thomas. Back in 1990, he and his
wife, Wencke Marshall Foster, chairman and chief executive UK, were
struggling to cope with a crisis that was threatening to bring down an
Health inspectors in the US had found traces of benzene in a bottle of
Perrier. Overnight the bubble burst. He could be forgiven for jumping
ship to another brand that looked like it had a life beyond the next
week. But he didn’t.
He reinstated the famous ‘eau’ ads, despite warnings that the campaign
had been contaminated by the crisis, and rescued Perrier from its ersatz
80s image to a 90s lifestyle icon, striking a chord with a younger
But Thomas had been there before when he was senior brands manager at
Wrigleys. The brand had moved away from saccharine because of scares in
Consequently, the product used to break up and the marketing was
‘medicinal’. He found himself pitching his ideas to Mr Wrigley himself.
‘It didn’t make sense that a product which fitted the profile of the
early 80s wasn’t succeeding. I put the saccharine back in and made it a
desirable product again,’ he says.
One colleague says of him: ‘He is a passionate believer in the brand. He
realises that if you are confident enough things do take time but that
is often necessary if you want to build a brand.’
Not for Thomas grand inspirational flashes. However, that does not
detract from his record at Perrier which speaks volumes for itself.
Leaving PepsiCo as UK marketing manager, he took on the role of
marketing for the UK in 1985.
Seeing the need for Perrier to keep one step ahead of the competition he
launched Perrier with a Twist, giving drinkers an alternative to the
other brands that were making an appearance on the market.
A year later, as head of marketing, he developed Volvic into the second
biggest mineral water brand in the UK market, which, according to
Datamonitor, was worth pounds 369m last year. But his biggest task has
been how to wrench Perrier from the 80s and take it forward into the 90s
The positioning of Perrier as the mineral water brand was being steadily
eroded by the sheer volume of new brands and retailer’s own-label. Just
like the high octane 80s, Perrier’s image was in danger of burning out.
Thomas sought out sexy names and activities that Perrier could be
associated with in order to lure a different customer.
The drink is sponsor of the London Fashion Week, and at the recent
launch of James Bond film Goldeneye, bottles appeared in ‘Eau Eau 7’
The revival of the ‘eau’ ads, given a fresh coating by Publicis, has
attracted a new audience that sees the brand as a fashion accessory as
well as thirst quencher.
‘Kids want something they feel good about and I am staggered by how
knowledgeable they are. Most of them have been brought up with mineral
water so they come to it from a different perspective,’ says Thomas.
The same treatment has been lavished on other brands such as Vittel and
Buxton, which have also benefited from the pounds 5m the company puts
into its marketing each year.
The advertising by Herb Ritts put Vittel on the shopping list of every
All the brands in the Perrier stable are enjoying healthy sales in the
Last year, Vittel grew by 100% and sells more than 20 million bottles of
water each year, which is little compared with its UK stablemate,
Buxton, which tops 90 million.
But it’s all change for Thomas. His new job will send him out into the
field to look at ‘the key issues of key markets’ in Belgium, Germany,
Poland and the UK. It will also get him out of his boss’s hair.
1976 - 1979 Management trainee, assistant brand manager, brand manager
(Taunton Cider) Guinness
1979 Account manager J. Walter Thompson
1980 - 1985 Brands manager, senior brands manager Wrigley Co
1983 - 1985 UK marketing manager PepsiCo
1985 - present UK marketing manager, head of marketing, marketing
director (Perrier), commercial and marketing director, director
(Northern and Eastern Europe) Perrier-Vittel