Nearly 790,000 point of use (POU) water units were in active use across West Europe at the end of 2007, four times more than five years ago, according to figures out this week.

Also known as plumbed-in or mains-fed coolers, POU systems purify and chill mains tap water. With an estimated value of EUR210m in 2007, the West European plumbed-in water cooler market continues to record annual growth in excess of 20%, research group Zenith said.

"The UK and Italy are the two leading countries, with a combined unit share of 56%, but they are quite different in character," said Zenith market intelligence director Gary Roethenbaugh. "Offices dominate the UK industry, driven by interest in health and hydration. Italian preference for sparkling water and a culture of leaving the workplace for refreshment has led to more emphasis on provision in bars, restaurants and homes."

The increased consumption of tap water through POU systems is mainly due to the cost savings, convenience and environmental benefits that plumbed-in coolers claim to offer. 

Around 29% of all mains-fed coolers in Europe now dispense sparkling water as well.  "Trust in the national water supply is vital, but also a desire to improve it. Customer awareness and equipment innovation have encouraged POU progress too," Roethenbaugh added.

Waterlogic, Ebac, Crystal Mountain and Apuro are among the UK manufacturing heavyweights, while Italbedis, Zerica, CEM Industries, Kosmologik and Cosmetal have led the way in Italy.

High growth rates are predicted to rise in Greece, Switzerland and Austria. Italy, the UK, France and Germany are expected to install more than 450,000 units between them over the next five years.