The slowdown in consumer spending post 11 September and the ubiquitous poor summer weather has done little to dampen the spirits of the bottled water industry in western Europe.
According to the latest market data from drinks consultancy Zenith International, western European bottled water sales rose by 5 per cent in 2001 to more than 38 billion litres, despite the fact that most of the markets are already mature.
Zenith's 2002 West Europe Bottled Water Report shows that the largest three bottled water markets in Europe - Italy, Germany and France - together accounted for 72 per cent of total volume, but that the smaller markets were the ones which showed the most growth. In fact, while all the countries in western Europe showed some volume growth, only Ireland and the UK showed double-digit increases.
"Bottled water has become a mainstay of Europe's soft drinks industry," commented Zenith research director Gary Roethenbaugh. "Set to reach an average 100 litres per person this year, bottled water is increasingly the product of choice for Europe's beverage consumer."
This average per capita consumption figure masks substantial differences from country to country. For example, Italians are the biggest consumers of bottled water, drinking 168 litres each year, while Danes are the least likely to buy a bottle of water, as they consume just 16 litres each per year.
The report also shows that sparkling water is losing ground to still water, which now accounts for 58 per cent of the total water market. Furthermore, the convenience and simplicity of PET packaging has made it the most popular packaging format for bottled water, accounting for 64 per cent of all sales and pushing glass down below 30 per cent.
Despite concerns in some countries that the arrival of purified water brands such as Dasani and Aquafina, produced by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo - which are little more than tap water which has been cleaned up and perhaps given a shot of vitamins - the Zenith report shows that natural mineral water is still by far the most popular among western Europeans, accounting for 80 per cent of all sales.
But it warns that spring and other waters, including the much cheaper purified waters, now account for 17 per cent of the market, and could well lift that even further as the marketing machines behind brands such as Dasani begin to work their magic.
"It is remarkable how the larger, more mature markets continue to expand where stagnation might be expected," Roethenbaugh said. "Greater consumer awareness of water's health benefits and wider concerns about tap water quality are providing the foundation for bottled water growth. As lifestyles become more hectic, bottled water is increasingly perceived as a calorie free refreshing beverage that is the perfect solution for people on the move."
The Zenith report also ranks the leading bottled water producers in western Europe, and shows that the top 50 companies accounted for 59 per cent of total sales there. Nestle subsidiaries make up seven of that top 50, with six for Danone, three for Coca-Cola and two each for San Benedetto and Spadel. Castel, Gerolsteiner and Uliveto were the only other companies in the top 10, each with sales above 800 million litres.
Looking to the future, the report forecasts a further 26 per cent market growth by 2006,10 billion litres more than in 2001.