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News 23.05.2024

Bottled water outsells carbonated soft drinks for the eighth year in a row

Bottled water has retained its title as America’s favourite packaged drink, outselling carbonated soft drinks (by volume) for the eighth year in a row, new data from the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC) shows.

Bottled water outsells carbonated soft drinks for the eighth year in a row
(Photo: International Bottled Water Association)

Bottled water has retained its title as America’s favourite packaged drink, outselling carbonated soft drinks (by volume) for the eighth year in a row, new data from the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC) shows.

Bottled water’s total volume sold in 2023 was 15.94 billion gallons, compared to carbonated soft drinks, which sold 11.84 billion gallons. Bottled water retail sales surpassed USD 48 billion, up 6.5 % from 2022.

“Multiple characteristics account for bottled water’s resonance with U.S. consumers, including its associations with healthfulness, convenience, safety, and value. An array of packaging types, ranging from single-serve to bulk, facilitates a wide range of uses,” says John G. Rodwan, Jr., BMC’s editorial director.

“Consumers’ thirst for beverages that offer benefits beyond refreshment alone also contributed to the fundamental hydrating beverage’s rise in the beverage standings. Bottled water’s zero-calorie status and its lack of artificial ingredients appeal to many consumers. Even where tap water may be safe and readily available, people may prefer bottled water, which they often believe tastes better. The availability of packaged water wherever beverages are sold also differentiates bottled water from tap,” says Rodwan.

Bottled water products compete with other packaged drinks, but not tap water. Most bottled water drinkers consume both tap water and bottled water, packaged conveniently in 3 and 5-gallon for the home and office, or at retail 1 and 2.5 gallon or individual size commonly sold by the case. However, when people are away from home and bottled water isn’t available, 70 % say they will choose another packaged drink, according to a survey conducted in 2022 on behalf of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) by The Harris Poll. Survey respondent choices were as follows: soda (22 %), sparkling or sweetened or flavored bottled water (10 %), sports drink (8 %), tea (7 %), coffee (6 %), juice/fruit drinks (5 %), functional water (5 %), bottled tea (4 %), energy drink (3 %). Among the remaining 30 %, a third (10 %) would drink from a water dispenser, either using a refillable cup (5 %) or disposable cup (5 %). Ten percent would drink filtered tap water, 6 % would drink unfiltered tap water, while 4 % would drink from a public water fountain (down from 7 % in 2019).

For more than a decade, consumers have been increasingly choosing bottled water instead of less-healthy packaged drinks. In fact, since 2012, 34 % of bottled water’s growth has come from people switching from less-healthy drinks to bottled water.

Bottled water’s volume surpassed soft drinks for the first time in 2016 and has done so every year since. Americans consumed, on average, 46.4 gallons of bottled water in 2023, compared to 34.4 gallons of soda. The fact is that consumers demand bottled water. Research shows that nine out of 10 Americans (91 %) say they expect bottled water to be available wherever other drinks are sold.

“Consumer preference for healthy hydration and bottled water is really good news for public health,” says Jill Culora, IBWA’s vice president of communications. “This is particularly important as the nation continues to experience high rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.”

“Bottled water also has the added benefit of packaging that is 100 % recyclable, unlike laminated paper cartons, which technically can be recycled but most often they are not accepted by the majority of municipal recycling systems in the United States. Not only are bottled water containers 100 % recyclable (including the cap) but they also use much less plastic than other packaged beverages.”

Even with continuing growth and increased consumption, bottled water still has the smallest impact on the environment—thanks to the fact that it has the smallest water and energy use footprint of any packaged beverage. On average, only 1.4 liters of water (including the 1 liter of water consumed) and 0.21 mega joules of energy are used to produce 1 liter of finished bottled water.

Most bottled water is packaged in 100 % recyclable PET #1 plastic and HDPE #2 plastic, which are the plastics most recognised by consumers as being recyclable and the most recycled plastics in the world. Consumers can be confident about recycling plastic bottled water containers because they are among the few consumer packaging types that are universally recyclable across the United States. Not all cities and towns recycle glass bottles and laminated paper cartons, which are most commonly comprised of multiple layers of paper, plastic, and aluminum or wax.

PET plastic bottled water containers are the most recycled containers in U.S. curbside recycling programs, accounting for 52 %. PET plastic bottled water containers are a valuable resource because they can be recycled and used over and over again.

Recycling facilities know that there is a huge industry demand for post-consumer PET and HDPE plastics. Many bottled water companies use recycled PET and HDPE plastic to create new bottles, which helps to reduce their environmental impact further because they aren’t using virgin plastic.

“Helping people make healthier choices is at the core of the bottled water business,” says Culora. “Consumers have made it clear that there’s a demand for safe, healthy, and convenient bottled water, as they are responsible for propelling bottled water to the title of America’s most popular packaged beverage, by volume.”

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