Zenith Global predicted that 2018 would be the year of bottled water, and that it would officially overtake every other mass market beverage category after years of growth. Bottled water consumption rose 92% between 2007 and 2017, while all soft drinks combined rose just 24% in the same time frame.
Bottled water’s growing popularity can be attributed in part to the global consumer interest in improved health and wellness: with plain water being free from added flavors, sweeteners or calories. Bottled water also ensures drinking safety and quality for those with limited access to clean tap water.
More than 14 billion gallons of bottled water were sold in the US in 2018, making it the most successful beverage in terms of both revenue and volume. Sparkling, carbonated water products lead the category, showing how brands are trying to keep consumers interested in water and away from sugary sodas or juices.
The IBWA commissioned the Harris Poll survey in the US this fall to better understand consumer behavior and preferences when it comes to bottled water, and the results closely mirrored what was found in during the same survey in 2017.
In 2018, 72% of consumers said bottled water is among their most preferred non-alcoholic beverage, which was a 9% year-over-year (YOY) increase. It was reported the most preferred beverage, followed by coffee (61%) and soft drinks (59%).
The popularity of high-end water brands like Fiji and smartwater mean purified water is now outselling spring water. But there are also now increased choices in value-added water, including alkaline, plant-based, ph-balanced, essence and protein waters that are trendy in the health and wellness world.
Respondents also say they reach for bottled water frequently: while they travel (89%), at work (82%) and at home (75%). And 93% want bottled water to be available wherever other drinks are sold, despite a recent global movement to cut back on single-use plastic for the sake of the environment.
According to the survey, 99% of Americans drink some form of water regularly, whether it is bottled, tap, or filtered. But those who only or mostly drink bottled water (37%) were equal to those who drink bottled and tap water equally (37%). And consumers who drink only or mostly tap or filtered water fell to about 25% in 2018, a 10% YOY decrease.
Prioritizing taste and quality
Jill Culora, VP of communications at IBWA, said “The results of this poll are consistent with recent consumption figures that show, for a third year in a row, bottled water is the no.1 packaged beverage in the US.
"People are continuing to shift away from less healthy packaged drinks and are choosing the healthiest option – bottled water.”
A 2017 PET bale analysis study that found bottled water is the most recycled product (53.9%), compared to soda bottles (20.4%), reports the IBWA. Its own study found that people who prefer water were more likely than people who prefer soda to say that they recycle their water containers at home (71% vs. 67%).
Those who do choose to drink water prioritize taste (98%), quality (98%) and safety (90%) in their beverages, with 91% believing that bottled water is a healthy and convenient drink. And 84% believe they should be drinking more of it.
Other features that consumers considered important in a beverage choice include:
- Ready-to-enjoy (81%)
- Convenient packaging when on-the-go (81%)
- Re-sealable containers (75%)
- Low calories (68%)
- Lack of artificial sweeteners (70%)