Bottled water consumption in Central and South America registered a slight rise last year, according to recent research. Beverage consultancy Zenith International said late last week that consumption in the region was up by 3.4% on 2004, at almost 31bn litres. The consultancy revealed the figure in its report on Bottled and Bulk Water in Latin America.

The region is led by Mexico, which boasted sales of more than 14bn litres in 2005, Zenith noted, giving it a 45% share from consumption of over 130 litres per person. Brazil follows with a 25% share from a volume of 7.6bn litres.

On the water cooler machine front, Zenith noted that there were around 2.4m units throughout Latin America last year, the vast majority being installed in the two leading bottled water markets of Mexico and Brazil.

"Coolers represent a very different business model in Latin America compared with other regions worldwide," said Zenith research director Gary Roethenbaugh. "Bulk bottled water is firmly entrenched in the majority of Latin American markets and, because of low consumption levels in many countries, we feel there is considerable potential for increasing both bottled water consumption and cooler penetration levels in the future."

Bottled water sales have achieved consistent growth in recent years, despite economic difficulties which affected many countries at the start of the decade. Zenith attributed this to not just the perception of bottled water as a basic foodstuff but also a growing awareness of health and wellness issues.

Looking forward, Zenith forecasts continued annual growth in water volumes and cooler unit numbers until 2009, taking consumption towards 36bn litres and the number of water coolers to 3.1m.