Bottled water sales are booming in Britain thanks to a new generation of consumers who see the sector as more than glorified tap water and better for their health and well-being than fizzy drinks, reports Chris Mercer.
The proportion of British adults drinking bottled water increased from 35 per cent in 2000 to 54 per cent in 2004, according to a new report from market research group Mintel.
"More consumers are increasing their daily intake of water, either because they want to follow a healthier daily eating pattern or because they wish to maintain their fluid intake as part of a weight-reducing regime," said Amanda Lintott, consumer analyst at Mintel.
"Consumers also see it as a lifestyle choice, forsaking caffeine and carbonates in favour of water, which is innocent of any type of health-crime."
The volume of the bottled water market rose by 50 per cent between 1999 and 2004, yet carbonated soft drinks grew by less than six per cent and have lost five per cent of their volume market share since 2000.
And it is a new generation of young Britons aged between 15 and 24 who are driving the trend. This group consumes 58 per cent of the still, bottled water produced and consumption declines with age so that over-65s drink only 26 per cent.
Sales of bottled water to children also doubled between 2002 and 2004, though per capita consumption remains low.
It seems younger people more readily see a difference between buying bottled water and turning on the kitchen tap. "Over half of Britain's elderly refuse to pay for water, with those in Scotland (33 per cent) least likely to part with their pennies," says the report.
"What is more, almost three in 10 adults say they do not buy bottled water because tap water is just as good. It is Britain's men who are particularly reluctant to shell out for water in a bottle, with over a third (36 per cent) expressing this view compared to under a quarter (23 per cent) of women."
The report adds that this scepticism, whilst in decline, means the British market still has more potential than its Western European counterparts. UK per capita consumption stood at 33 litres in 2004, well below the 112-litre average in Western Europe.
However, retailer price wars have meant that value growth on the UK bottled water market is less than the rise in volume. Market value grew 37 per cent between 2000 and 2004 to £1.57bn, and is forecast to increase by another eight per cent this year.
Whilst this is undoubtedly healthy, the report said new product launches have begun to focus on added value to increase profits and entice new consumers.
Functional bottled water is a category that particularly stands out. "Last year a number of functional waters were launched in the UK, and trends in new product development elsewhere in the world suggest that more will follow," says the report.
"It has yet to be seen, however, how many of these brands will survive and whether this will ever be more than just a niche, which appeals to the most sport- and or health-conscious."
Flavoured water has also shown strong growth as consumers look for alternatives to fizzy soft drinks.