Britain's thirst for bottled water returns with consumer confidence

November 4, 2009

As the ultimate discretionary purchase, bottled water sales have suffered in recent years, with cash-strapped consumers reverting to tap water. However, new research from Mintel reveals that, as consumer confidence – albeit, not yet economic growth – returns, so is the popularity of bottled water.
The bottled water market until recently was thriving, more than doubling its sales from 1997 – 2007 to reach 2.5 billion litres. However, as consumer confidence fell dramatically, and not helped by consecutive poor summers, volume sales of the market fell by 11% between 2006 and 2008. With the industry attracting environmental criticism and consumers seemingly happy to exchange bottled for tap water, some were predicting the market to be in terminal decline.
However, the exclusive Mintel research shows reasons for optimism. In 2009, the decline in sales slowed to only 1% with the British drinking 2.3 billion litres of bottled water and the market worth £1.9 billion. With economic conditions expected to improve, Mintel forecasts that volume sales will start growing steadily from 2011 onwards and that by 2014 the British will be consuming 2.5 billion litres a year, a return to 2007 levels.
Jonny Forsyth, Senior Drinks Analyst at Mintel said:
” consumer confidence is inextricably linked with bottled water consumption. When the decline in confidence began in the latter half of 2007, bottled water became one of the easiest products for cautious consumers to sacrifice. After years of not having to worry about the pennies, the first question consumers started asking when purchasing was ‘Is this value for money?’ and at around 250 times cheaper, tap water suddenly seemed a much more sensible option. However, with consumer confidence rising over recent months, consumers have started to loosen their purse strings and bottled water has been one of the beneficiaries. “
Today, over a third of consumers in Britain (35%) think that bottled water tastes better than tap water. However, Mintel’s research shows that there is still a huge question mark over whether bottled water is good value, even among its drinkers. Only one in ten think of it as value for money, a third think it is ” a bit of a con” and four in ten think it is no healthier than tap water.
“Such consumer scepticism has left the bottled water market particularly vulnerable to an economic slump, and consumers need to be reminded of why it is a product worth paying for to ensure the recovery continues. Most of us do not have the time or inclination to fill up a bottle with tap water for when we are out and about and, unlike other soft drinks, plain bottled water allows us to rehydrate without consuming calories or additives – a major selling point to an increasingly health and weight obsessed consumer. “Jonny concludes.
Indeed, when asked, consumers see a number of positives connected to bottled water. A fifth of consumers feel that drinking bottled water means they are taking care of themselves, 21% feel that without it they wouldn’t drink enough water and 18% feel that it provides a healthier alternative to drinking sugary soft drinks or caffeine-based beverages.
Mintel also finds little evidence of environmental concerns affecting purchasing. Only one in eight (12%) admit their purchase decision is influenced by whether a brand is locally-sourced to reduce the carbon footprint, compared to 28% influenced by whether the bottle is easy to carry. Also, despite one in six (16%) of bottled water drinkers agreeing that buying the product is bad for the environment, only a third opt for environmentally-friendly brands compared to over a half who opt for the cheapest price.

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