Water growth continues to flow

Highland Spring bottled water

The bottled water category remains buoyant in Scotland thanks to innovation and commitment to tackling sustainability concerns.


Despite the inevitable pressure on bottled water sales from environmental concerns, the last few years have seen a period of continued growth for the category. With naturalist David Attenborough and teen environmentalist Greta Thunberg pushing sustainability up the political agenda, however, the category has been forced to respond – and many major producers have been working hard to reduce the impact of their products on the environment.

And there’s no question that the growth in the category will eventually have to level out naturally, as Nichola Grant, Channel Marketing Manager at Highland Spring Group, explains: “The continued growth will always balance out eventually. Despite this, bottled water remains a significant contributor to soft drinks due to its scale”.

Sales obviously peak and trough based on factors that retailers or manufacturers can’t control, like the weather. The phenomenal summer of 2018 saw demand for natural source water hit an all-time-high. By comparison, 2019 had particularly poor weather which impacted the category.

Despite this, Highland Spring has still managed to post growth of 15.2% by value over the last year [Nielsen, Dec 2019] and remains the number one selling natural source water brand in Scotland.

According to the same data, the Highland Spring Still 750ml sports cap SKU has grown 30.8% in value and 9.6% in volume compared to a year ago, making it a must-stock in the soft drinks chiller.

How did Highland Spring manage to buck the trend in a tougher 2019? Much of the success was down to a busy, active year for the brand. Grant comments: “We continued to focus on healthy hydration and the importance of the environment. Our ‘A to Anywhere’ experiential campaign delivered these messages to five million consumers across the UK alone. This was followed by Highland Spring being the official natural source water supplier to The Solheim Cup, which gave the brand a further platform to interact with a wide audience.”

Importantly, 2019 also saw the launch of the Highland Spring eco bottle and ‘Wild-Life’ kids eco bottle 6-pack, both fully recycled and recyclable products. The launches marked a significant milestone in Highland Spring’s efforts to help keep plastic in the circular economy and helped drive further growth.

Grant adds: “We also relaunched Highland Spring Sparkling in 2019 with a new bottle design and the multi-channel ‘Remarkabubble’ campaign – our biggest investment on sparkling water to date.”

The brand’s investment into the sub-category saw Highland Spring Sparkling grow by 16.6% by value last year [Nielsen, Dec 2019], making it another must-stock line.

It looks likely that 2020 will remain a challenging year for the plain water category, but standing at a total value of £63.7m according to Nielsen data, it is vital not to lose sight of how important natural source water is for the soft drinks category.

How to maximise water sales…
  • Merchandise fast sellers on the bottom shelf in the chiller
  • Keep natural source water to the left/right depending on traffic flow
  • Give at least two facings to single bottles to increase standout on shelf and make it easier for consumers to shop
  • Allow space for sparkling water plus a choice of flavoured products
  • Restock after the lunchtime period
  • Have top-selling lines at pay points to encourage impulse purchases
  • Include Still and Sparkling natural source water as part of meal deals

Drive spend with cross-category merchandising and deals

Consumers shopping in convenience stores are often aware of their intended purchase, so availability is key to ensure that a customer doesn’t leave empty handed. Clear merchandising of the natural source water range in a prominent position in the fridge will help customers find what they are looking for.

It’s essential to have a variety of single bottles in the fridge to cater for immediate consumption, with high sellers on the bottom shelf. Within the range, it is highly recommended to stock products across plain and flavoured, still and sparkling. Secondary siting of natural source water at in-store payment points can also encourage impulse purchases.

Research and in-store testing in many categories has shown that for small bottles, it is essential to have a minimum of two facings to ensure visibility of the product to the shopper.