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[Weekender] Korea’s top bottled-water brand Samdasoo taps overseas markets

Having a clean and natural brand image is the most crucial asset in the bottled-water business, said the CEO of the country’s best-selling drinking water producer.

“Many companies have been trying to emulate our success, but couldn’t follow suit. The clean and beautiful image of Jejudo Island, the source of our water, differentiates us from others,” said Kim Young-chul, CEO of Jeju Special Self-Governing Province Development Corporation, which produces Samdasoo, meaning water of Jejudo.

Samdasoo on display at a supermarket (JPDC)
Samdasoo on display at a supermarket (JPDC)

JPDC produces Samdasoo bottled water, which sold more than 675,000 tons in 2014, generating 195.4 billion won ($178 million) in sales.

The brand has topped the market ever since its launch in 1998, taking a 45.8 percent stake in the 600 billion won drinking water market here.

JPDC expects to see a 12 percent increase in sales to 219 billion won this year, selling 755,000 tons.

Kim noted that the volcanic island, recognized as the UNESCO-designated World Natural Heritage, has been the firm’s biggest asset.

“The water from Mount Hallasan, the highest mountain in South Korea, that flows underground is filtered through more than 110 layers of volcanic rock. It takes 20 years for the water to pass through all these layers,” he said.

“Water like this is sold in only two places in the world ― Jejudo and Hawaii,” Kim said.

Based on the water quality and brand asset, JPDC thinks it is possible for Samdasoo to enter Europe and the U.S., home to global bottled-water brands such as Evian and Volvic.

“The European drinking water market is already saturated, but demand for tonic water is huge,” he said.

For success in the U.S. market, it is important to build a distribution channel. Large supermarkets there have private brands whose sales take a big slice of the market.

The company plans to make the most of Samdasoo’s clean and natural image like other global bottled-water brands do. For instance, Evian and Volvic put their marketing priority on the origin of their water ― the Alps.

As an initial step for the globalization of its water business, the JPDC chief said the company would tap the Chinese market since many Chinese tourists visit Jejudo Island and have already experienced the water quality.

“We have more than 3.6 billion tons of rainfall in Jejudo every year. We have plenty of water to sell. China will be a good market if we position ourselves as a premium brand,” Kim said.

By Bae Ji-sook