Report: US bottled water market slowing

After years of steady growth, the US market for bottled water appears to be cooling off, the Worldwatch Institute reported Monday.

By , Blogger for The Christian Science Monitor

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    Bottles of Dasani water are seen on sale at a central London supermarket.
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After years of steady growth, the US market for bottled water appears to be cooling off, the Worldwatch Institute reported Monday.

Worldwatch's Ben Block cites a report [.doc] from the Beverage Marketing Corporation that projects the US market to grow 6.7 percent this year, the smallest increase in this decade. In 2007, the market grew by 6.9 percent, the second-smallest increase.

These slowing growth figures do little to reverse the remarkable rise that the industry has seen in recent years. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation report, in 2002 the average American consumed 20.1 gallons of bottled water. By 2007 that figure had risen to 29.3 gallons, an increase of almost 46 percent.

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And globally, bottled water's popularity continues to grow. Global consumption reached nearly 50 billion gallons last year, up from about 34.5 billion gallons in 2002.

According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation,  the US is ninth in the world in per capita consumption, after the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, Italy, Belgium-Luxembourg (the report combines the two countries), France, Germany, Spain,, and Lebanon. Of these countries only France has seen a decline in consumption since 2002.

What's causing the US slowdown? Block points to a campaign by Corporate Accountability International. Since the "Think Outside the Bottle" campaign launched in 2006, at least 60 US cities have phased out or reduced bottled water. In June, a resolution supported by a majority of the 250 mayors at the annual US Conference of Mayors pledged to "phase out, where feasible, government use of bottled water and promote the importance of municipal water."

The International Bottled Water Association, a trade group of companies in the bottled-water industry, responded by calling the resolution "not in the public interest," and said that bottled water should receive the same treatment as other "food products."

But the IBWA says that advocacy groups are not the cause of the slower growth. "We have enjoyed meteoric growth in the past," a spokesman of the trade group said, "but that's bound to level off."

A story in BrandWeek says the economy is the primary culprit. "Shoppers are less interested in paying for a product that they can get for free," says an article in the marketing trade publication.

The US economy cannot be entirely to blame for the decline. Sales began to slow in 2007 well before the current economic crisis began.

But whatever the cause of the slower growth, the bottled water industry is taking steps to improve its environmental image, even if it has to make unorthodox arguments to do so.  After the city of London, Ontario, voted to ban sales of bottled water on city property, the trade group Refreshments Canada, said that the city had lost "a chance to expand recycling."

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