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Americans make a clear choice

“Forget the soda! More Americans would rather quench their thirst with bottled water” was Fox News’ lead into a story coming from America late last week that had many wondering if April Fool’s Day had come early.

But it hadn’t: new data from the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) and the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC) was showing that Americans are drinking more bottled water than any other packaged beverage.

Specifically, with Americans drinking an average of nearly 40 gallons a person (139 litres) of bottled water in 2016 it showed that bottled water sales were outpaced those of carbonated soft drinks in 2016, in terms of volume, for the first time in history.

Bottled water sales in 2016 rose by 10% year-on-year to $16bn (wholesale), while volumes were up 8.6% to 12.8 billion gallons. In addition, per-capita consumption was up 7.7% to 39.3 gallons of bottled water, while average intake of carbonated soft drinks slipped to about 38.5 gallons per person.

It has taken bottled water a long time to reach this milestone in the USA. With the exception of two relatively small declines in 2008 and 2009—when most beverage categories contracted—bottled water volume grew every year from 1977 to 2016. This period included 17 double-digit annual volume growth spurts. Since resuming growth in 2010, bottled water volume has consistently enlarged at solid single-digit percentage rates.

The good news for America’s bottled water industry was accompanied by the results of a Harris Poll conducted for IBWA which found 86% of people purchase bottled water.

Daily-Journal.com editorialised that the change comes as more Americans give up soda and other sugary drinks for health reasons.

The World Health Organisation recommends men typically need about 10.5 cups (or 84 ounces) of water per day to ward off the debilitating effects of dehydration, and women typically need 9.3 cups (a bit more than 72 ounces) to keep dehydration at bay.

Daily-Journal.com posed the question “Why not reach for water instead [of soda] to remain hydrated?” and argued “Just read the nutrition facts on the side of a soft drink container. The calorie count is abnormally high. Now look at the label of a bottled water container. Only the serving size features a number larger than zero. There are no calories, no cholesterol, no sodium. You can harm the environment by carelessly tossing the bottle aside once it’s emptied, but you face no health risks by consuming it.”

Asked to comment on the news, South African National Bottled Water Association executive director, Charlotte Metcalf, said that bottled water’s versatility makes it suitable for consumption at any time of day and in just about any setting or situation.

It doesn’t need to be kept cold (like soft drinks or juice) or warm (like conventional coffee or tea). And various packaging sizes and types (from those used in dispensers in homes and offices to single-serve containers sold at retail locations) facilitate a variety of uses.

She also highlighted that both SANBWA and the IBWA and their members are utilising a variety of measures to continue reducing the environmental impact of bottled water, such as using recycled plastic and some are producing 100% recycled PET plastic bottled water containers.

Metcalf noted: “Bottled water’s environmental footprint is the lowest of any packaged beverage, according to a life cycle assessment conducted by Quantas, one that can be reduced by a further 25% if it is recycled.”

According to Metcalf, South Africans don’t buy nearly as much bottled water. At SANBWA’s general information session, BMi Research’s Gareth Pearson told delegates that the bottled water industry is now a mature industry and that innovation is needed to grow market share. He also shared a few other facts and figures.

By volume, the South African beverage market in 2015 was dominated by alcoholic beverages (37.7%) and non-alcoholic beverages excluding bottled water (34.7%) while dairy beverages account for 24.2% of the volume and the bottled water industry just 3.3%.

Estimates for 2016 put alcoholic beverages at 36.6%, non-alcoholic beverages at 35.9%, dairy beverages at 24.2% and bottled water at 3.4%.

Within the bottled water market in 2015, still unflavoured waters accounted for 64% of volume while sparkling flavoured waters made up 20.3% of volume. For sparkling unflavoured the figure was 10.4%, for still flavoured it was 3.3% and 2% was for functional waters.

Within the LSM 1-4 group, frequency of purchase was relatively constant with 35% buying bottled waters once a week, 36% buying bottled waters twice a week but just 29% buying bottled waters three times or more a week. For the LSM 5-7 group, the figures were 30%, 30% and 40% and for the LSM 8-10 group 19, 26 and 56%.

She said one the general trends driving the market locally is that the drought has promoted a marginal shift towards larger sizes of still unflavoured water, and in drought regions bottled water is being used for washing and bathing as well as drinking.