West Europe's bottled water market continues to demonstrate enduring growth. Despite maturity in the main countries, uncertainty in the wider economy, a slowdown in tourism and unremarkable weather last year, consumption grew 4% to reach 39.8 billion litres in 2002.

The data released in a report by the industry analyst Zenith International also said average consumption broke through the 100-litre barrier for the first time to reach 101.5 litres per person. Growth is being driven by increased consumer awareness of hydration issues, particularly helping drive sales of still water in countries where sparkling water has traditionally dominated.

The report also said that And Denmark joined Ireland and the UK in registering double digit growth in 2002.

Zenith research director Gary Roethenbaugh said: "Amazingly, the most mature markets of France, Germany and Italy are continuing to edge ahead. This emphasises the long term bottled water opportunity and positions bottled water as the major challenger to other beverage categories."

A surge in water cooler volumes has undoubtedly benefited bottled water in recent years. The water cooler arena also saw unprecedented levels of merger and acquisition activity in 2002 and the first half of 2003, leading to a major restructuring as a result of the expansion of Nestlé's operations and the entry of Danone.

Roethenbaugh added: "PET has also made a very strong showing in markets that have previously been committed to glass. Functional bottled water variants are likewise making strong gains alongside sweetened flavoured waters in certain key countries. These areas are considered a distraction by some bottled water purists, who point to soaring water cooler volumes and continuing packaging innovation as the key drivers for future sales growth."

Zenith forecasts that the market should rise to 46 billion litres by 2007. Early estimates for 2003 are very buoyant as a result of the summer heatwave. Growth is also likely to be fuelled by increased consumer awareness of the health benefits of water - as lifestyles become more hectic, bottled water is increasingly perceived as a calorie free, refreshing beverage that can easily be carried about whilst on the move.