Bottled water sales in East Europe increased by 15% during 2006 to 11.93bn litres, according to research released today (13 December).

According to the drinks consultancy Zenith International, the rise can in part be attributed to rising standards of living in the region, along with a greater appreciation of health and hydration.

These trends have helped almost double consumption per person since 2001 to 38 litres a year. Since the West European average is 110 litres per person, the market is likely to hold substantial further potential for water bottlers, the report said.

"All 15 national markets grew in 2006," said Zenith research director Gary Roethenbaugh.  "Volumes have jumped by an impressive 71% since 2001 and we believe they will climb 34% more over the next five years."

Hungary was the fastest growing country last year, increasing sales by 24% to over 870m litres. Meanwhile, the region's largest and most established market of Poland advanced 23%, following a period of mixed fortunes. Russia, Bulgaria and Estonia all continued to build on the marked advances made since 2001, with five-year volume growth of 118%, 138% and 140% respectively. The Czech Republic remains the highest consuming country at 93 litres per person.

"The last few years have seen significant players with strong sparkling mineral water traditions launch still or lightly sparkling variants," said Roethenbaugh. "A growing cooler industry is providing an extra boost to still water in some countries."

While sparkling water figures continue to improve, still water has greatly increased its share of the market from 32% in 2001 to 46% in 2006. Nevertheless, sparkling water dominates ten of the 15 national markets, with just two countries - Serbia and Latvia - likely to switch over in the next year or two.