Demand for bottled water continues to flourish as its reputation as a healthy, convenient, and eco-conscious beverage gains steam. Bottled water options, which health-
conscious consumers want, and more eco-friendly bottle composition, favored by environmentalists, are expanding—and delivering.
Check the store shelves: Flavored still and carbonated water; alkaline water; and vitamin, caffeinated, and even collagen-infused water are at consumers’ fingertips, and manufacturers are appealing to customers and pleasing regulators by providing water in plant-based plastic containers, which show high recycling rates—not to mention help to keep natural resources cleaner and therefore healthier.
Bottled water, the largest beverage category by volume in the United States, expanded in 2022, even if at a slower rate than in 2021, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC). Total bottled water volume grew from 15.7 billion gallons in 2021 to 15.9 billion gallons in 2022, an increase of 1.1 percent (compared to 4.6 percent the previous year). In contrast, producers’ revenues increased by nearly 12 percent, largely due to higher prices.
BMC forecasts an increase in 2023 in year-over-year growth in direct-delivery water volume, with single-serve, 1 to 2.5-gallon multi-serve, self-service refill (vended), domestic sparkling bottled, and imported bottled water remaining basically flat after their mostly steady, solid run. As for retail dollars, BMC sees a healthy boost in all categories.
Other than two relatively small declines in 2008 and 2009—when most beverage categories contracted due to that period’s financial crisis—bottled water volume grew every year from 1977 to 2022. This period included 17 double-digit annual volume growth spurts and fairly steady, high single-
digit growth figures since 2010.
“Bottled water’s healthy hydration and calorie-free refreshment make it the ultimate functional beverage,” noted Michael C. Bellas, chairman and CEO of BMC. “Even in challenging economic times, bottled water remains consumers’ go-to option for an affordable, convenient, portable beverage.”
The Need to Be Hydrated
Business reporter Gill Leonard said the expanding knowledge of the health advantages of drinking water is one of the key factors driving the bottled water market.
“Customers are looking for quick and accessible sources of drinking water as they become more aware of the need of being hydrated and the effects of dehydration on their general health,” Leonard said. “Companies now have the chance to take advantage of the rising demand for flavored and functional water by creating novel, healthy bottled water products.”
Leonard added, “The growing emphasis on sustainability and environmental responsibility is a significant element behind the rise of the bottled water business. Customers are looking for bottled water items that are sustainable and eco-friendly as they become more ecologically aware. In response, businesses are making investments in eco-friendly packaging options, lowering their carbon footprints, and highlighting their dedication to environmental responsibility.”
Single-Serve Bottled Water Most Popular
Single-serving sizes stand as the most popular bottled water type, accounting for most of the industry’s volume, BMC reported in May in its most recent data report. In 2022, the single-serve segment enlarged by 1.4 percent to 11.3 billion gallons. Some other segments, including home- and office-delivery water and self-service refill (vended) water, also grew.
Not all did, however. While sparkling water and imports frequently outperformed the overall bottled water market in many previous years, both declined in 2022. The 1-to-2.5-gallon multi-serve segment, which experienced a boost in 2020 and 2021, also declined in 2022. Gary Hemphill, BMC’s managing director of research, said that after several high-profile product launches a few years ago boosted the segment, sparkling water performance has been sluggish.
But, Leonard said, given the fierce rivalry in the bottled water market, firms must stand out by providing cutting-edge solutions that satisfy customers’ changing needs. “The result is businesses are investing in research and development to provide goods that address health issues, including immunity, energy, and hydration. It’s apparent on store shelves, bottle labels, and in advertising,” he said.
Nutrition-Rich Water Options Flow
Spring and artesian waters remain, but even more turbo-
charged water is gaining favor among health-conscious consumers.
In June, Sprouts grocery stores began offering Chlorophyll Water, the first bottled water in the U.S. to earn the Clean Label Project certification. In the push for healthy hydration, Sprouts, as well as other grocery chains, also offer water with added hydrogen and electrolytes, collagen-infused water, coconut-based water, and water that claims to boost immunity. Caffeinated water is also increasingly popular.
Alkaline water (also called ionized water) has a higher pH than regular drinking water. The popular brand Essentia, for example, has a pH of 9.5. Regular water falls at around 7—which is considered neutral—on the 14-point pH scale.
Electrolyte-enhanced water takes a page from sports drinks and coconut water and includes nourishing electrolytes, such as potassium and sodium, considered what a body needs after heavy sweating.
Hydrogen water is inspired by a Japanese trend and is consumed to boost endurance and energy and provide antioxidants. It typically comes in a pouch to prevent hydrogen from escaping the package.
99 Percent of PET Plastic Water Bottles Recycled
Even with continuing growth and increased consumption, PET-bottled water still has the smallest footprint in water and energy use of any packaged beverage, according to a 2022 release from the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA). On average, only 1.39 liters of water (including the liter of drinking water) and 0.21 megajoules of energy are used to produce one liter of finished bottled water.
Most bottled water is packaged in 100 percent recyclable PET #1 plastic and HDPE #2 plastic, which are most recognized by consumers as being recyclable and the most recycled plastics in the world. The recyclability of these water bottles distinguishes them from other common plastic products that are truly single use. Among all the items that get placed in recycling bins or taken to drop-off centers, an estimated 99 percent of all PET plastic bottles are recycled.
According to IBWA, many bottled water companies use recycled plastics to make new bottles. Post-consumer PET and HDPE plastic is in demand, and industries want to use recycled plastics and reduce the need for new plastic.
Then there’s canned water. When compared to non-PET plastic bottles, cans are arguably recycled more. With a recycling rate of over 75 percent, aluminum remains the most recycled beverage container on the planet, according to a March post by Ellie Shoja in the Power of Positivity blog. Cans also require less energy to produce than plastic bottles.
Not only are water cans easier to recycle, but they are made from recycled materials. Additionally, canned water is lightweight and stackable, which makes it easier to transport and store and reduces the carbon footprint associated with shipping and delivery. Compared to bottled water, canned water is also more compact and space efficient, making it easier to pack when hiking or camping, according to Shoja.
Bottle-Less, Touchless Water Alternatives Take Hold
Quench is a bottle-less water-as-a-service for those who seek an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional bottled water dispensers. John Whalen, senior vice president of sales, marketing, and customer service at Quench, said he’s seen sales volume pick up, and customers are increasingly choosing more premium water experiences in their office spaces.
“Flavored sparkling water, ice, et cetera, are the growing trends for our customers, as they are looking to provide those kinds of perks for their teams in the office,” Whalen said. “In total, our bookings continue to rise sharply each year based on trends like these, as well as continued strong demand for our core bottle-free water coolers.”
He said the manufacturing, distribution, and health care industries have continued to be areas of strength, as demand did not cool during the pandemic but accelerated in many cases. “Where we have seen an uptick last year and this year has been in more traditional commercial office settings, as customers have sought a wide range of products for their returning staff members and guests.
“Touchless dispensing continues to be a key feature for many of our customers, particularly in industries that continued to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic—manufacturing, distribution, and health care,” Whalen said. “Our customer research shows an increased request for touchless across industries, so we have pivoted to offer touchless dispensing.”