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Sexing Up Bottled Water

May 18, 2021 | Trends

A renewed health-conscious attitude has boosted sales of bottled water, which began rising in the 1990s, tripling to 115 billion liters worldwide by 2001. In the U.S., bottled water sales began growing after the introduction of Perrier in 1975. By 2016, some four decades later, U.S. bottled water sales volume surpassed carbonated soft drinks for the very first time.

That 1990s growth spurt was partly due to the launch of PepsiCo’s Aquafina in 1994, followed by Coca-Cola’s Dasani in 1999, purified waters that changed the beverage industry landscape with lower production costs and broad distribution.

  • History – In 1844, a Maine innkeeper discovered the therapeutic properties of water from a local spring. As the spring water’s popularity with visitors grew, his family turned the inn into a spa resort and began selling water under the Poland Spring brand in three-gallon bottles, dubbed “demi-johns.” England’s Holy Well bottling plant preceded Poland Spring, becoming the first to sell bottled water in 1622. Despite having the first water bottler, the U.K. only consumed 23 liters of bottled water per capita in 2001, trailing top consumer, Italy (159 liters), by a wide margin.
  • Market dimensions – In 2001, about 115 billion liters of bottled water were sold worldwide for a total retail value of $67 billion. (All data reported here is in liters, which makes global comparisons easier.) Between 1992 and 2019, the U.S. bottled water market soared from under $3 billion to $35 billion — a 1,181% increase, according to Beverage Marketing Corp. (BMC). Volume-wise, U.S. sales of bottled water leaped from just under 10 billion liters per year in 1992 to more than 54 billion liters by 2019:

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  • Per capita consumption – Consumption around the world varies widely. The top seven consuming nations in 2018 were Mexico and Thailand (both tied at 274 liters), Italy (190 liters), U.S. (159 liters), France (145 liters), Germany (144 liters), and Spain (142 liters), according to Statista. The U.S. placing third worldwide is quite remarkable. In 1988, U.S. per capita consumption was just 15 liters per year, a more than tenfold increase in 30 years.
  • Most popular beverage – Bottled water emerged as the second-largest U.S. commercial beverage category by volume in 2003. By 2016, it became the top-selling beverage, surpassing carbonated soft drinks for the very first time. Growing demand for bottled water, coffee, energy drinks, and other drinks curtailed the market for carbonated soft drinks. Between 2000 and 2016, consumption of carbonated soft drinks fell from more than 189 liters (50 gallons) per capita to 146 liters (38.5 gallons), allowing sales of bottled water to overtake the traditional category leader by 2016. Per-capita consumption of carbonated soft drinks has declined further to 140 liters (37 gallons) in 2019.
  • Perrier – In the late 1960s, Perrier, with its signature small green bottle, transformed the industry through mass advertising. Until then, Perrier had been primarily known as a bar “mixer.” The company’s first major slogan, “Perrier, c’est fou!” (“Perrier, it’s crazy!”) raised brand awareness significantly. Between 1946 and 1987, Perrier went from 10 million bottles a year to 4 billion. Much of that growth came from international expansion, including the U.S., where it landed in 1975. In 1980, Perrier enlarged its U.S. footprint by acquiring Calistoga in California and Poland Spring in Maine for undisclosed sums.

Perrier Pink GrapefruitPerrier Pink Grapefruit flavored mineral water comes in “slim cans” to further reinforce that healthy “weight-loss” image that promises to do more than just quench thirst. Merci beaucoup, Perrier!

  • Premium water – Proving that sex and money can sell anything, the water business now boasts many premium brands trying to crush all pricing logic. Beverly Hills-based Bling H2O was created by Hollywood producer Kevin Boyd to “exemplify popular culture.” Judging from the company’s marketing, see main image, Bling H2O is aimed directly at Generation X-tasy, the experiential crowd. One bottle, “The Ten Thousand,” boasts a $2,700 price tag, although bottles priced around $39 are more typical.

Fililico Thank You My Sweetheart bottleJapan-based Fillico offers a $280 bottle of water, excluding worldwide shipping charges, that befits your royal class. This one is called “Thank You My Sweetheart.” Arigatogozaimashita, Fillico!

The trend has come full circle. The bottled water industry was launched using snob appeal. In the mid-1970s, Perrier hit the right note with yuppies, who decided that French sparkling water in a green glass bottle was a must-have beverage. Perrier demonstrated that U.S. consumers in the United States would actually pay for water. And they’re still paying. 😏🚰

Michael Tchong’s Ubertrends book
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