Although many consumers associate drinking water with being healthy, the bottled water market’s sales hasn’t reflected such beliefs in recent years.

In Beverage Industry’s October 2023 issue, Sally Lyons Wyatt, global executive vice president and chief adviser for consumer packaged goods and foodservice at Circana, Chicago, noted that dollar and volume growth for bottled water had slowed over the past year.

“Consumers’ quest for enhanced health and well-being includes hydration, which bodes well for bottled water,” she said. “However, as prices continued increasing, consumers started to pull back and invest in less expensive options including water filtration options and adding functional benefits through beverage mixes.”

Lyons Wyatt shared insights that the latest 52 weeks ending Aug. 13, 2023, showed dollar sales up 7.9%, with volume sales declining 1.7% due in part to consumers reacting to continued price increases.

“Overall, bottled water pricing is up 9.8% on a dollar/volume basis in the last 52 weeks,” she said.

According to more current data from Circana, the total dollar sales for bottled water in the past 52 weeks ending May 19 was $25.6 billion. The non-flavored convenience/bottled still water segment saw sales of $15.6 billion during that time, up 1.2% from that same period last year.

Top nonflavored convenience/bottled still water

The Top 5 brand families were private label, Glaceau, Aquafina, Poland Spring and Dasani. Private label’s sales increased by 3.7%, seeing $5.7 billion in sales.

Michael Bellas, chairman and CEO of Wintersville, Ohio-based Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC), also shared observations on the bottled water market in Beverage Industry’s October 2023 issue. Like Lyons Wyatt, he noted that volume had been soft, while revenues continued to increase as impacted by inflation.

“However, pricing has also begun to slow in the second half of the year,” Bellas said. “Despite price increases, bottled water remains the best value refreshment beverage on the market. Health and wellness is still the key driver for the category.”

Although the bottled water market profits from consumer interest in health and wellness, other consumer trends have influenced the category.

“During the pandemic, decreased mobility — with an associated increase in stay-at-home bottled water consumption — and concerns about tap water quality helped drive penetration growth,” Circana’s Lyons Wyatt said in Beverage Industry’s October 2023 issue. “Over the past year, however, household penetration has dropped due to several factors, including higher prices, other hydration options, etc.

“In fact, consumers’ hydration universe has broadened,” she continued. “Not only the traditional beverages, but also electrolyte mixes, etc., are contributing to the headwinds for the category.”

BMC’s Bellas stated that, even though consumer demand for variety has spurred innovations in the realm of specialty and enhanced waters, such segments only represent a small share of the overall market.

“Specialty waters are still popular with today’s consumers, but volume performance has been soft in 2023,” he said in Beverage Industry’s October 2023 issue.

Mananalu Purified Water
Actor Jason Momoa’s aluminum-bottled water brand, Mananalu, launched a limited-edition bottle to celebrate “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.” Image courtesy of Mananalu

Circana’s Lyons Wyatt shared that the performance of enhanced bottled waters was stable, seeing as many consumers seek out alternatives to sugary drinks.

“About a quarter of bottled water volume is enhanced in some way — including alkaline, etc. — which has remained pretty steady in the past two years, and is a testament to consumers seeking more than hydration or a fortified boost to ‘normal’ water and an alternative to sugary sports drinks, etc.,” she explained in Beverage Industry’s October 2023 issue.

PepsiCo’s Gatorade brand recently enter the bottled water category with its launch Gatorade Water. The product was the brand’s first unflavored, electrolyte-infused premium water, aiming to meet consumers’ growing need states. The water is available in 1-liter, 700-ml sport cap and 700-ml six-packs formats. All bottles are made from 100% recycled plastic.

“Today’s athletes and active people are looking for solutions not only in the heat of performance, but also throughout their full day,” said Emily Boido, senior director of marketing at Gatorade, in a statement. “Gatorade Water is a direct result of this consumer need. With the launch of Gatorade Water, we’re bringing active people an unflavored alkaline water option that is electrolyte-infused for a refreshing and crisp taste and is from a brand they trust.”

Caleb Bryant, associate director of food and drink at Mintel, Chicago, pointed to premium bottled waters as representing a growing segment of the total water market, including alkaline water and highly sustainable bottled water.

“Consumers purchase waters that reflect their aspirations, image and to communicate their status,” Bryant said in Beverage Industry’s October 2023 issue. “Seventy-two percent of consumers aged 18-34 earning $75,000 and up agree that premium bottled water can act as a status symbol.

In its report titled “US Still and Sparkling Waters Market Report 2023,” Mintel highlights how sustainability and luxury attributes in bottled waters overlap among athletes.

“Self-identified athletes under index as bottled water consumers,” the report states. “Yet, those who do drink bottled water strongly over index as purchasers of premium and sustainable bottled water brands. Athletes are also significantly more likely to agree that premium bottled water acts as a status symbol and that it is worth paying more for environmentally friendly bottled water.”

Despite economic uncertainty, experts note that market trends can bring advantages to beverage brands.

Mintel’s report points to premium and luxury water brands as a robust growing segment of the total water market despite the current economic climate.

“Luxury product sales are booming across categories and consumer interest in small, luxurious experiences may translate to increased sales of premium water,” the report states.

Additionally, because sparkling water can serve as an alcohol alternative, the report notes that premium sparkling water has consumer appeal

“Consumers are rethinking their relationship with alcohol, offering new opportunities for sparkling water brands to directly target alcohol consumption occasions,” it states. “Thirty-eight percent of consumers closely or occasionally follow a sober-curious lifestyle and 28% of sober-curious consumers drink sparkling water as an alcohol alternative.

“Sparkling waters that feature unique flavors with premium packaging design act as appealing alternatives to alcoholic beverages,” the report continues.

Top flavored seltzer/sparkling/mineral water

In the recent data from Circana, the flavored seltzer/sparkling/mineral water segment saw $4 billion in sales in the 52 weeks ending on May 19. The Top 5 brand families were as follows: Sparkling Ice, private label, La Croix, Bubly and Polar. Of the five brands, Polar saw the greatest increase in sales at 14.7%.

As packaging designs appeal to consumers’ proclivities, Circana’s Lyons Wyatt, in Beverage Industry’s October 2023 issue, pointed to brands including sustainable elements on bottled water as a factor to boost sales.

“Sustainability elements such as source (domestic versus imported) and carbon footprints are starting to appear both on packaging and in consumer messaging and should help in bolstering sales,” Wyatt said.

Mintel’s Bryant noted that although personal refillable water bottles are trending upward, the majority of bottled water purchasers still keep bottled water stocked-up at their homes.

“Sustainability is a hot topic within the bottled water category and many younger consumers opt for using personal refillable water bottles rather than purchased bottled water.  Sixty percent of refillable water bottle users say that buying bottled water is only worth it when their refillable water bottle isn’t available,” Bryant explained in Beverage Industry’s October 2023 issue. “However, bottled water purchasers tend to be category loyalists, 73% of consumers say they always keep bottled water stocked at home.”

Experts also discussed how the home and office delivery (HOD) of water presented opportunity for the category.

“HOD is the star performing bottled water segment in 2023,” BMC’s Bellas said in Beverage Industry’s October 2023 issue. “Growth is continuing for the home business and commercial is also seeing growth.

“In addition to traditional HOD, we’re seeing strong growth in 5-gallon water sold at retail along with the 5-gallon exchange business,” he continued.

Circana’s Lyons Wyatt noted that HOD and online bottled sales are a convenient way to replace tap water.

“Home delivery presents an opportunity for consumers who have migrated to a more remote working environment to benefit from the option of buying either large format (e.g., 5-gallon jug) and/or having a more convenient purchase experience (i.e., not having to lug a heavy case pack of water home),” she said in Beverage Industry’s October 2023 issue. “While still small, purely online bottled water sales represent only about 2% in dollar terms, with the weight of water imposing shipping cost complications into that aspect of the category’s supply chain, and helping drive continued interest in curbside fulfillment and continued strength in large format retail chains.”