At the end of 2002 there were 617,000 bottled water coolers across East Europe, 26% more than in 2001, according to a report on East Europe Water Coolers from drinks consultancy Zenith International. 

At over 580 million litres, sales through coolers have risen to 8% of total bottled water consumption, compared with just 3% in 1998.

Poland remains the leading country with a 51% volume share, followed by Russia on 29%.  Then there is a substantial gap before reaching the Czech Republic and Ukraine at 4% each.  The fastest growth, however, came from the youngest markets of Croatia and Romania, both of which more than doubled in 2002.

The region is already attracting the attention of major players from other markets.  In July 2002 Nestlé Waters added Russian number two Saint Springs to its lead in Poland, taking its total East European portfolio over 200,000 units. During the year Eden Springs similarly reinforced its Polish presence and expanded into four new markets through the acquisition of Rent a Cooler's Baltic operations and Ukrainian Springs.  Eden now ranks second with more than 100,000 units.

"Some of East Europe's water cooler markets are now entering their second decade and Poland has formalised its stature by setting up its own national association, but others are still at a very early stage of development," commented Zenith research director Gary Roethenbaugh.   "There is clearly a great deal of unrealised potential in this sector, as many of these countries enjoy stable economies and will become members of the European Union next year."

Zenith's forecasts anticipate cooler numbers exceeding 1.1 million units by 2007, with the majority of new placements coming from electric cooler machines.  On this basis, sales through coolers should pass the 1 billion litre mark in 2006.