Bottled water fought off tap water, soda, and other beverage players, as it continues to grow in popularity amidst changing consumer trends.
According to market research group Canadean, the bottled water industry is expected to sell about 233 billion liters this year, overtaking soda by about 1.3%, which is expected to sell 227 billion liters. After a 6% average annual growth rate since 2008, bottled water could finally become the world’s new leading packaged drink. This growth will be particularly pronounced in emerging markets like India, China, and Brazil, where sales of bottled water have increased by about 10%.
While soda lost sales volumes in 2014, the U.S. bottled water industry saw 7.3% growth, which helped drive the entire U.S. liquid refreshment beverage market by 2.2%. Several major food and beverage companies, particularly Nestle SA and Coca-Cola Co., are moving in on this bottled water trend. Coca-Cola has been involved for some time. Some companies, like Nestle, are capitalizing on this growth through new sales channels, such as online ordering and water delivery.
Bottled water has many reasons for its successes and shortcomings in the beverage industry and beyond.
Health concerns shake up the beverage industry
A growing number of consumers are becoming more concerned about health implications of the drinks they buy. As a result, soda sales have dropped for the past decade, while the bottled water industry has grown.
Bottled water also promotes safety in regions of the world where water could be contaminated, such as due to higher temperatures or insufficient infrastructure. In these cases, bottled water is not only preferable, it is necessary, and that has boosted its global sales as well.
Bottled water’s marketing: Myth or fact?
Beyond the sugar debate, another aspect of health concerns come into play with bottled water. Proponents market bottled water’s benefits over tap water; they cite freshness and the lack of chemicals that can seep into tap water. However, others believe that drinking bottled water is not better than tap water, and some studies have supported this belief. In some cases, bottled water may even contain certain additives not found in tap water.
Both types of water are regulated, bottled water by FDA and tap water by the Environmental Protection Agency. Bottled water manufacturers, however, do not have to report the same information required of tap water. The ingredients in bottled water, or lack thereof, vary from brand to brand and company to company.
Bottled water and the environment
Another issue the bottled water industry contends with is its reputation for harming the environment. Water bottles can take about 1,000 years to biodegrade, and at the moment, about 2 million tons of discarded water bottles can be found in landfills throughout the country. While water bottles are often recyclable, only about 1 in 5 bottles are recycled. Even then, only PET bottles are recyclable, which further limits the recycling capability and transforms those bottles into litter.
It also takes water to make water. The average standard for bottled water is about 1.5 gallons of water needed to create each gallon of bottled water. Nestle, through its sustainable bottling practices, requires 1.3 gallons of water to produce a gallon of bottled water.
Companies which manufacture bottled water have also come under fire particularly in California, where many bottling operations still run in a state choked by a four-year drought. Nestle and Wal-Mart Stores both received such criticism from California residents in the past few months. While Wal-Mart doesn’t appear to be changing its bottling operations in California, Nestle announced a $7 million project that aims to reduce its own operations there.
Still, some experts insist that the total amount of water bottled is small in the context of the state’s overall water usage. They also say that the drought is a much bigger problem that requires huge overhauls in other areas of water usage.
Bottled water has battled nearly to the top of the beverage industry. The product continues to be controversial, but there’s little denying that bottled water continues to be a major benefactor in consumers’ changing preferences for healthier foods and beverages.