Western Europe's bottled water market continues to demonstrate enduring growth, with consumption continuing to rise last year despite a number of potentially negative influences.
The 2003 West Europe Bottled Water from drinks consultancy and bottled water specialists Zenith International reveals that consumption increased by 4 per cent last year to 39.8 billion litres, despite maturity in the main countries, uncertainty in the wider economy, a slowdown in tourism and unremarkable weather conditions.
Average consumption broke through the 100 litre barrier for the first time to reach 101.5 litres per person, Zenith said, helped in no small part by the continued proliferation of water coolers in homes and offices. But it is more than simply the increased availability of water which is pushing up sales; consumers are also more aware of hydration issues, and this has had a particularly beneficial effect on sales of still water in countries where sparkling water had traditionally dominated.
Italy has the largest bottled water market in western Europe, accounting for 24.9 per cent of the total. Germany is in second place with 23.4 per cent, followed by France with 22.2 per cent. Spain in fourth place is some way behind with 12.1 per cent, while the UK is the fifth largest market with 4.5 per cent. All the other countries together have a combined 12.9 per cent share.
In per capita terms, Italy is again the market leader with around 180 litres consumed each year. France is in second place with around 150 litres, followed by Belgium with approximately 138 litres and Spain with around 122 litres. Germany and Switzerland are the only other countries with consumption above the average level of 101.5 litres.
The Scandinavian markets are among the lowest consumers, with Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland all hovering around the 20 litres per capita market. The Dutch also drink far less water than their neighbours in Belgium or Germany, with per capita consumption also around the 20 litre level.
The biggest gains in consumption came from Denmark, which joined Ireland and the UK in registering double digit growth in 2002. However, as Zenith research director Gary Roethenbaugh explained, there was growth right across the region. "Amazingly, the most mature markets of France, Germany and Italy are continuing to edge ahead. This emphasises the long term bottled water opportunity and positions bottled water as the major challenger to other beverage categories."
The surge in water cooler volumes has undoubtedly benefited bottled water in recent years. The water cooler arena also saw unprecedented levels of merger and acquisition activity in 2002 and the first half of 2003, leading to a major restructuring as a result of the expansion of Nestlé's operations and the entry of Danone.
Roethenbaugh added: "PET has also made a very strong showing in markets that have previously been committed to glass. Functional bottled water variants are likewise making strong gains alongside sweetened flavoured waters in certain key countries. These areas are considered a distraction by some bottled water purists, who point to soaring water cooler volumes and continuing packaging innovation as the key drivers for future sales growth."
Zenith forecasts that the market should rise to 46 billion litres by 2007, and early estimates for 2003 are very buoyant as a result of the summer heat wave. Growth is also likely to be fuelled by increased consumer awareness of the health benefits of water - as lifestyles become more hectic, bottled water is increasingly perceived as a calorie free, refreshing beverage that can easily be carried about whilst on the move.