A vast majority of consumers see water as a smart beverage choice and consider bottled water to be healthier than soft drinks, according to newly released findings from a survey conducted online by Harris Poll of more than 2,000 U.S. adults aged 18 years and older for Alexandria, Va.-based International Bottled Water Association (IBWA).

The survey’s conclusions reflect healthy hydration trends that are driving annual bottled water sales and consumption increases and support predictions from Beverage Marketing Corp. (BMC), New York, that bottled water is on course to become the No. 1 packaged beverage in America by 2016.

According to the November 2014 survey, 96 percent of Americans think that they should be drinking more water. It also found that 95 percent of Americans think that bottled water is a healthier beverage choice than soft drinks.

“While there have been a few efforts made to restrict its availability, 92 percent say bottled water should be available wherever other beverages are sold,” said Chris Hogan, IBWA vice president of communications, in a statement. “And, 55 percent said that bottled water was among their preferred beverages.”

The survey also showed that 86 percent of consumers already buy bottled water, most often from grocery stores (73 percent) or big box retailers like Walmart or Target (42 percent). These findings support research from BMC showing that consumers tend to buy bottled water in bulk from supermarkets or large discount retailers because they often prefer to purchase bottled water in cost-saving volume.

“In addition, 91 percent of Americans say that healthy considerations like calories are at least somewhat important when making the decision about what beverage to consume,” Hogan said. “This high degree of awareness about making healthy diet choices is consistent with the 7.4 percent increase in bottled water consumption last year, to 10.9 billion gallons. In fact, according to BMC, in 2014, every American drank, on average, a record 34.2 gallons of bottled water, and by 2016 bottled water is predicted to be the No. 1 packaged beverage sold in the United States.”