The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), Alexandria, Va., and New York-based Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC) announced that bottled water, for the second consecutive year, is the No. 1 beverage product in the United States, by volume.

Bottled water volume grew to 13.7 billion gallons in 2017, a 7 percent increase over the previous year, BMC said in a statement. Bottled water sales now total $18.5 billion, an increase of 8.8 percent. Per capita consumption exceeds 42 gallons of bottled water, a 6.2 percent increase. Meanwhile, the average annual intake of carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) has slipped to 37.5 gallons, BMC statistics show.

BMC predicts bottled water will climb higher than 50 gallons per capita within just a few more years.

The distance between bottled water and CSDs continues to widen as increasingly consumers choose bottled water instead of soda. CSD sales decreased for the thirteenth consecutive year, according to the most recent numbers from BMC.

Within the bottled water category, all segments grew in 2017:

•            Domestic non-sparkling increased 5.5 percent.

•            Domestic sparkling increased 27.5 percent.

•            Imported water increased 9.2 percent.

•            Home and office delivery (3- and 5-gallon size bottles) increased 1.3 percent.

“Bottled water’s rocket-like rise in popularity coincides with pronounced shifts in consumer preferences for refreshment and rehydration,” said Michael C. Bellas, BMC chairman and chief executive officer (CEO), in a statement. “As the quintessential portable and affordable beverage, bottled water introduces new usage occasions and habits. Suitable for consumption at any time of the day or night, and not necessarily in need of being kept ice cold, bottled water simply is the preferred beverage not only for consumers aiming to reduce caloric intake or lessen artificial sweetener usage but also for consumers of all kinds.”

 Joe Doss, IBWA president and CEO, added, “Healthy, convenient and safe, bottled water is America’s favorite packaged water for many reasons. Research and polling indicate people are continuing to make the switch from other packaged drinks to bottled water.” 

Bottled water is healthy, tastes great and is refreshing and convenient for on-the-go lifestyles, the companies stated. In addition, bottled water is comprehensively regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has a proven record of packaging safety and is sold in containers that are 100-percent recyclable. Bottled water containers also use much less PET plastic than soft drink containers (9.89 grams vs. 23.9 grams, on average, for a 16.9-ounce container). Soda needs a thicker plastic container due to its carbonation, it added.

BMC data from the past two decades shows that a large part of the sales growth for bottled water is the result of a “consumer shift” from sugar-sweetened beverages to bottled water, Doss says.

The new data is consistent with a Harris Poll conducted for IBWA that found more than 3 in 5 Americans (63 percent) say bottled water (still and/or sparkling) is among their most preferred beverages, followed by coffee (62 percent). Fewer Americans (58 percent) say soft drinks (regular and/or diet) are among their most preferred drinks.

Nearly all Americans (94 percent) believe that bottled water is a healthier choice than soft drinks, and 93 percent say bottled water should be available wherever drinks are sold.

“Amid worries about obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health matters, bottled water’s lack of calories and artificial ingredients, convenience, and refreshing taste attracts health-conscious consumers,” Doss said. “As some consumers are becoming wary of artificial sweeteners, they are abandoning diet offerings, as well as regular soda, and instead are switching to bottled water.”

The bottled water industry is utilizing a variety of measures to continue reducing its environmental impact. Many bottled water companies already use recycled plastic in their bottles. Some are producing 100-percent recycled PET plastic bottled water containers, he says.

“Bottled water’s environmental footprint is the lowest of any packaged water, according to a life cycle assessment conducted by Quantis,” Doss stated. “When it comes to overall water use, the bottled water industry is actually a very small and efficient water user. Bottled water uses only 0.011 percent of all water used in the United States.”

Bottled water also has the lowest water- and energy-use ratios of all packaged beverages. On average, it takes only 1.32 liters of water to produce 1 liter of finished bottled water (including the liter of water consumed), which is the lowest water-use ratio of any packaged beverage product. And on average, only 0.24 mega joules of energy are used to produce 1 liter of bottle of water.

The bottled water industry continues to work with recycling advocates, communities, and beverage and food partners to help increase recycling rates, Doss said. Bottled water containers, including the cap, are 100 percent recyclable and are the most common item in curbside recycling programs, recycled at a rate of 53.85 percent, Doss said.

Bottled water containers make up only 3.3 percent of all drink packaging in U.S. landfills. Plastic carbonated soft drink containers make up 13.3 percent, and aluminum cans make up 7.9 percent, Doss said.