What next for water?

Laura Muir

Consumers are buying more water than ever as the trend towards healthier consumption shows no signs of relenting but the category faces more challenges than ever, so what lies ahead?


Statistically speaking, consumers are drinking more water than ever before and the sub-category is outperforming the wider soft drinks market, which declined by 0.1% in volume in the 12 weeks prior to January 2018 [IRI, Jan 2018]. And of the sub-categories that showed growth, Bottled Water contributed a whopping 41%, with total overall volume sales of Plain Water increasing by 5.6% according to the same data, with sales in convenience up 2.3%.

Interestingly, Plain Water outsold Cola by volume across the Total Retail Market for the first time ever in July 2017.

Carol Saunders, Head of Customer Marketing at Highland Spring Group, comments: “This can largely be attributed to the rise in consumer demand for healthy hydration options. And consumers in Scotland specifically are drinking more water than ever before with Plain Bottled Water growing in volume by 5.2% in the last year [IRI, Feb 2018]. Sparkling water in particular is also continuing to gain popularity with volume sales increasing 7% in the last year in Scotland.”

Challenges ahead?

So far, so good, but the road ahead for plain water looks increasingly challenging. The growth of flavoured waters will certainly put pressure on the category while the shift towards re-using and re-filling bottles may ultimately affect the category should the trend continue to grow.

The flavoured water sub-category now accounts for over a third of impulse water sales and is growing strongly in Scotland at 4% [IRI, Jan 2018]. AG Barr’s Rubicon Spring is a good example of a product helping to grow this sub-category. It has delivered over £25m of sales since launch [IRI, Dec 2017] and is available in four variants: Strawberry & Kiwi; Lemon & Lime; Orange & Mango; and Black Cherry & Raspberry.

Adrian Troy, Marketing Director at Barr Soft Drinks, comments: “What makes Rubicon Spring so exciting is that it appeals to consumers across different categories. For those wanting a healthier alternative to a fizzy drink or fruit drink, it has all of the low calorie and healthier benefits of spring water. And for those coming from water or flavoured water where taste can often be bland and disappointing, it has a big hit of Rubicon flavour.”

The company has also launched a new first of its kind product for the water category: Strathmore Botanics, made with spring water infused with natural botanicals and fruit flavours, with zero calories and no added sugar.

Available in three flavours – Orange & Mandarin; Apple & Elderflower; and Pear & Elderberry – the new range taps into the growing popularity of natural botanical tastes that consumers are increasingly enjoying across other categories.

Sugar tax

The recent introduction of the sugar tax is also likely to further boost the wider category, as Saunders explains: “The increasing consumer and media focus on health, as well as the imposition of the sugar tax, continues to be a major driver of product choice and is a significant consideration for consumers when choosing between drinks. Research shows that 36% of consumers are more concerned with sugar in food compared to the previous year [KWP Health and Attitudes to Nutrients, Mar 2017]. Therefore, retailers need to make sure their range appeals to health-conscious consumers by offering options low in or free from sugar and calories.”

Campaign drive

Highland Spring, the UK’s leading producer of natural source bottled water, has recently unveiled its latest marketing campaign, entitled ‘H2Oomph’. Encouraging consumers to enjoy life with added value, the activity kicked off with an on-pack promotion running until June and forms part of the brand’s ongoing ‘Brave By Nature’ positioning.

The instant win mechanic appears on Highland Spring’s Still 500ml flat cap and 750ml sports cap on-the-go single bottles and multipacks and gives the nation the chance to win one of 10,000 prizes on offer.

The promotion is supported by a fully integrated communications plan that includes in-store activation, out of home and digital advertising, PR and social media activity.

The brand has also unveiled a packaging refresh for its 1-ltr, 750ml and 330ml glass bottles. The design mirrors the new look introduced to the PET range, updated in 2017, and highlights the brand’s provenance and heritage messaging.

AG Barr’s Strathmore Water has also unveiled Team GB athlete and last year’s European Indoor 1500m and 3000m champion, Laura Muir (pictured), as its new brand ambassador. The 24-year-old runner – who hails from Milnathort in Scotland – will help the brand to deliver its ongoing Do More campaign which aims to inspire more people of all ages and ability exercising.

Advice from Highland Spring
  • Stock only top selling brands which consumers know and trust and which generate high rates of sale.
  • Ensure a good range of bottled water is available and well merchandised within the chiller.
  • Clear merchandising of the bottled 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 deeper shelf.
  • Stock products across plain and flavoured, still and sparkling to meet different consumer needs and occasions.
  • On small bottles it is essential to have a minimum of two facings to ensure visibility.