A new report by the market research firm Canadean Research Ltd. projects that global bottled water consumption will overtake carbonated beverage consumption for the first time this year—233 billion liters (61.55 billion gallons), compared to 227 billion liters.
Just five years ago, bottled water consumption was 170 billion liters, compared to 215 billion liters of fizzy soda drinks, according to Canadean.
As consumers in Western countries turn toward healthy lifestyles and healthy diets, bottled water is increasingly becoming the drink of choice. Meanwhile, soda’s appeal has diminished as scientific studies link its high-sugar content to obesity and diabetes risk.
Soda sales in the United States, for example, have dropped to mid-1990s levels, while annual per capita consumption has fallen to its lowest levels since 1986—at 674 8-ounce servings per person, according to industry publication Beverage Digest.
According to Canadean, the United States is the second biggest consumer of bottled water in the world, at 15 percent of global consumption.
The popularity of bottled water in the United States has propelled beverage companies to impressive growth rates: In 2014, Nestlé Waters (which includes bottled water and tea brands) surpassed Dr. Pepper Snapple Group to become the third biggest beverage company, with 11 percent of U.S. market share. Nestlé’s sales volume grew by 9.1 percent, compared to 0.3 percent growth at the No. 1 beverage company, Coca-Cola.
But in the No. 1 bottled water market in the world, China—which makes up 17 percent of the world’s consumption—people are buying water because they cannot find safe sources of water elsewhere.
A recent study by China’s Ministry of Land and Resources found that out of almost 5,000 monitoring sites in over 200 cities across the country, 60 percent of them had groundwater that was polluted.
Concerned consumers have turned to bottled sources in search of clean water. Bottled water is the biggest segment of the soft drinks market in China, according to IBIS World, a market research firm.
But several Chinese media exposés revealed that national authorities have lax quality standards for the bottled water industry, with no tests conducted for toxins like mercury, silver, or formaldehyde. Meanwhile, tap water had far more stringent regulations, with 106 different quality tests.
In the world’s third largest bottled water market, India (6 percent of global consumption), clean water is also scarce.
A lack of water treatment infrastructure and lax industrial waste standards have led to severe pollution of the country’s rivers. Meanwhile, India also lacks regulations on groundwater extraction, resulting in farmers over-pumping water for crop irrigation, according to the National Bureau of Asian Research, a U.S. think-tank that conducts research on Asia-Pacific policy.
India has roughly 1,000 cubic meters (5,314.67 cubic feet) of fresh water available to each person each year. A country is considered water-stressed if it has less than 1,700 cubic meters (60,034.93 cubic feet) of freshwater for each person, according to the United Nations.
Canadean predicts that India’s bottled water consumption will grow to 10 percent of global share in the next five years, while China’s consumption will grow to 20 percent. In the United States, growth will decline, to 13 percent.
As developing countries grapple with rapid population growth amid dwindling water resources, necessity will drive more consumers toward bottled water.
By contrast, freshwater sources are plentiful in America. But the consumer health trend will keep the United States reigning in the No. 2 spot for bottled water consumption.