Have you got the bottle?

Highland Spring sparkling water range

The current period of warm weather sends sales of soft drinks soaring – and bottled water is among the greatest beneficiaries, so keeping on top of your range is a must.

Bottled water has been an interesting category in recent years. Sales have remained strong and increasing sustainability concerns have been successfully addressed by the major producers. Then Covid happened.

Despite restrictions altering how people consume soft drinks and bottled water, value sales still reached £25m [Nielsen, May 2021] in the Scottish convenience channel. This is a strong indication that bottled water remains a crucial part of the soft drinks sector.

The makeup of those sales has changed over the last 12 months, however, as Mike Buckland, Marketing Controller at Highland Spring, explains: “Over the last year, larger bottles and multipacks have driven the category as consumers move to the take home and ‘Drink Later’ formats. Drink later options, despite holding less value, still continue to see growth as lockdown restrictions ease, witnessing a growth of 33.7% [Nielsen, May 2021] in convenience.

“Although smaller and single serve formats have been driving the category, as travel restrictions ease and consumers look to go on longer trips away, retailers should not ignore the importance of stocking larger pack formats.”

Severine Hemms, Shopper Marketing Manager at Nestlé Waters, agrees: “We have seen a reduction in on-the-go or impulse purchases, and seen consumers shift to more planned trips to stores, leading to a greater basket spend [ACS, 2020] and increased focus on larger formats or multipacks as consumption occasions at home rose by 38% [Kantar, Mar 2020]. Almost 50% of UK shoppers used convenience stores more during the first lockdown last year [TWC, Cirkle, KAM, 2020] so with 2020 emphasising the importance of the convenience channel, 2021 presents retailers with a golden opportunity to retain these new shoppers.”

Hot sales

In more recent times, the welcome sight of that big orange circle in the sky has helped drive sales of all soft drinks, with bottled water being among the biggest beneficiaries. It’s often overlooked how big the water category is. “The water segment continues to make up the biggest segment in the soft drinks category and accounts for 26% of all soft drink volume sales [IRI, Sep 2020],” says Hemms. “Buxton is a must-stock brand for retailers looking to optimise their water sales and encourage shoppers to drink water more regularly.”

Buckland comments: “Single serve and smaller formats have been performing incredibly well as on-the-go occasions begin to return with Highland Spring witnessing a 92% growth in value sales for the 500ml single format alone [Nielsen, May 2021].”

It’s worth noting that, despite strong growth in drink later, drink now remains the largest sub sector in Scottish convenience, recording value sales at £19m [Nielsen, May 2021].

At the other end of the format spectrum is Highland Spring’s relatively new 10-litre pack, its popularity a result of the good weather and the rise of staycations such as camping.

“Over 30% of buyers have repurchased the 10-lite pack,” says Buckland, “bringing new and lapsed consumers into the category. It is Highland Spring’s largest pack format and is something retailers should definitely consider when planning what to stock during the summer months.”

According to Zenith, Highland Spring is still the number one water brand at total level, both within the plain and flavours category.

Buckland comments: “On plain, Highland Spring is nearly a third (31.2%) bigger than nearest competitor Evian, and also has a higher household penetration vs. any other brand. But, like many industries, the bottled water sector has been hit by Covid and there has been a lot to learn and take away from the last 12 months.”


Buckland’s advice to retailers is to be bold and bring to market on-trend and innovative products.

A good example of his, he says, is flavoured sparkling water cans, which experienced 496% growth in May alone [Nielsen, May 2021], showing the rise in consumer demand for this product.

At the end of March, Highland Spring launched a new range of flavoured sparkling cans – just in time for the summer season and lockdown restrictions easing. Available in three different flavours and at under 35 calories per can, the launch targets consumers looking for a healthier, or non-alcoholic, option during their increased outdoor gatherings and picnics.

The cans are available in the following flavours: Pear & Elderflower; Blackberry, Plum & Hibiscus; and Rhubarb & Ginger.

Along the same line of thought, Hemms encourages retailers to stock San Pellegrino: “With shoppers looking to add some variety to their at-home meal occasions, we’ve also seen the sparkling water become the best performing segment within the water category. San Pellegrino, the number one plain sparkling water brand in convenience [IRI, Nov 2020], has helped to drive much of this growth, making it an important part of the water fixture in convenience stores.”