Bottled water is big news these days. The bottled water industry is on track to post another year of growth within the beverage marketplace, and preliminary statistics from Beverage Marketing Corp. predict that per capita consumption of bottled water in 2007 climbed to 30.2 gal, a 9.4% rise from 27.6 gal per capita in 2006.
U.S. residents drink more bottled water each year than any other beverage except carbonated soft drinks. Bottled water does not contain calories, caffeine, sugar or artificial colors and flavors, and bottled water’s growth within the marketplace will continue as consumers look to incorporate healthy food and beverage choices into their diets, according to Stephen R. Kay, vice president of communications for the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA).
“Consumers are looking for beverage choices among other bottled drinks,” Kay said. “So that’s why we see the numbers, volume and sales, but what is most important is consumers choosing a healthy beverage product.”
Consumers are not only concerned about what goes into their bodies—they also care about what goes into the environment. The industry is responding to this concern by placing a new focus on environmental stewardship.
“The trends of the bottled water industry—environmental awareness and stewardship and sustainable practices—will continue and become a growing part of our business model,” Kay said. Rising concerns over the environmental impact of discarded bottles and the fossil fuel consumption necessary to bottle and ship water have reached the ears of bottlers, and they are responding.
To this end, bottlers are reducing the amount of plastic they use and using lighter-weight plastic that is more easily compactable for recycling and less expensive to ship. Recently, Ice Mountain, along with other popular Nestlé Waters brands such as Poland Spring, Deer Park, Arrowhead, Ozarka and Zephyrhills, released an Eco-Shape bottle, which is claimed to be made with 30% less plastic than the average half-liter bottle. The company also said the product has a 30% smaller label, is 100% recyclable and easier to crush for recycling.
Other ways companies are working toward a high standard of environmental stewardship include building plants that are green-building certified—Nestlé Waters owns five LEED-certified plants, according to Ice Mountain’s website—as well as producing bottles in their own plants, making sure trucks are well-maintained, looking at hybrid forms of transportation and improving shipping efficiency.
“As an industry, we are involved in many different recycling advocacy and education initiatives,” Kay said. “We work in different areas—with recycling advocates, others in the food and beverage industry and government officials to get effective and efficient recycling programs in place and educate consumers about recycling.”
IBWA joined the National Recycling Coalition’s National Recycling Partnership, which is a coalition that aims to improve recycling programs.
Recent legislation has targeted the bottled water industry as lawmakers respond to rising environmental concerns. Chicago imposed a five-cent per bottled water tax earlier this year, and Hawaii is considering a similar measure. By targeting the bottled water industry, such taxes are “missing broad opportunities to put in place sustainable, long-term protective policies that do not discourage the choice of healthy bottled water,” Kay said.
Cities throughout the nation such as San Francisco and Ann Arbor, Mich., have banned the sale of bottled water at public events, and many cities already have or are considering banning the purchase of bottled water with city funds, citing the inconsistency of spending city money on bottled water while at the same time spending money on campaigns to promote the quality of municipal water supplies.
The media all too often puts bottled water against tap water, Kay said, but bottled water is not in competition with tap water. “We don’t market to disparage or undermine consumer confidence in tap water. We rely on plentiful, safe, quality public water systems; we live and work in communities and rely on good public water for a number of plant processes,” he said.
“We’re not competing with tap water; we’re not trying to put tap water out of business. We’re not trying to have people switch—most people drink both bottled water and tap water,” Kay said. “Over 70% of what people drink comes out of a bottle or a cup. So it’s not like people will switch from bottled water to tap water. They’ll choose another beverage, or they’ll put something in a cup that’s discarded in the waste stream.”
The bottled water industry and municipal tap water are partners in many ways, Kay said. They use many of the same technologies with the same goal of delivering safe, quality drinking water. “We’re in the beverage world,” Kay said. “Ours is a beverage choice, not a tap water replacement, and we could be doing a lot more by working together and promoting and communicating about drinking water … without confusing consumers and making it a bottle versus tap world.”
The backlash against bottled water has given the industry a platform to reach a greater portion of the public with its response.
The IBWA placed full-page advertisements in the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle last year as a way of “cutting through the clutter of the PR media side—what reporters do or don’t choose to write,” Kay said. “It got our message out there to an important audience in two major markets and served as a launch point for us to communicate with the media.”
Its growing share of the market and media attention ensure that bottled water will continue to be a hot topic, and the industry will continue to respond with new initiatives and information for consumers.
This year the IBWA and the American Beverage Association will combine tradeshows at InterBev 2008, held at the Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas, Oct. 20 to 22. The IBWA’s 50th Annual Convention will continue through Oct. 24.