Mineral water is facing some serious problems. Natural resources running dry, pollution and fierce competition has forced many bottled water companies to rethink their products and branding, shifting towards the safer manufactured water market. Sarah Diston reports.

Europe still leads the world market in bottled water with a 35% global market share and with an estimated total value of just over $13 billion in 1999, and even though sales still rely heavily on temperature Evian Volvic saw sales exceed all previous records in the UK in May, even though the Met office recorded the wettest May in the UK since 1983 - with 115mm of rainfall.

Marketing director at Evian Volvic (Evian is the leading European brand) David Graham explained: "We have identified a need to ensure that consumers are aware of the positive effects of drinking water come rain or shine."

Research carried out by Evian Volvic claims that sales volumes increase more with every 10% rise in temperature above 17C.

Leading European Countries in the Bottled Water Sector according to Zenith International.

Litres / capita
Italy
158
France
133
Netherlands
119
Germany
101
Switzerland
93
Spain
91

* UK is ranked 16th in the world with 12,000 million litres.

http://www.zenithinternational.com
http://www.globalwater.com
http://www.waterbank.com

But a multi-million pound marketing investment this year also spearheaded the company's market growth, and heavy advertising throughout May, with a poster campaign claiming "It's not what you put on, it's what you put in", and a Water Therapy supplement published in a high profile woman's magazine, also proved successful for Evian.

As the bottled water sector continues to out grow other soft drinks on the market, the choice is also growing, with flavoured, mineral and sparkling waters now stocked prominently in bars and on supermarket shelves throughout Europe.

Heavy marketing and naming bottled water after natural springs has also proved extremely popular with companies. Consumers are able to identify exactly where the water is coming from, and they like the idea of choosing which water they are drinking.

Water is also becoming the popular alternative to other mainstream soft drinks, consumers are more aware of variety, on and off trade, and with more bars and clubs stocking bottled water, non-alcoholic consumers are turning to water as the healthy and natural alternative to the energy drinks, colas and juices currently on the market.

Perrier Vittel, the leading bottled water company in Europe said: "Carbonated waters are the mainstay of the German market, a market that is still fragmented and where regional brands and glass formats still play a strong role."

"The Belgian market is similar to the French with powerful megastores and an away-from-home sector that is growing at a fast clip. In the UK, small innovative formats are experiencing rapid growth and Perrier Vttel's strategy is innovation - new formats and sportscap version on Buxton in the UK and Valvert in Belguim."

According to Perrier Vittel, still mineral waters and carbonated waters continue to show strong growth. Italy sports Europe's highest per capita consumption rate and is seen as a mature market, but the bottled water market is still growing and competition remains fierce.

Perrier Vittel S.A. European Market Position

United Kingdom

Position Second with a 12% market share (according to Perrier Vittel S.A.)
Per Capita Consumption 14 litres
Market Volume 580 million litres
Growth +20%

Belgium

Position Second with a 16% market share (according to Perrier Vittel S.A.)
Per Capita Consumption 118 litres
Market Volume 1.1 billion litres
Growth +4.5%

Germany

Position Second with a 8% market share (according to Perrier Vittel S.A.)
Per Capita Consumption 96 litres
Market Volume 7.6 billion litres
Growth +1.7%

Spain

Position Fourth with a 7% market share (according to Perrier Vittel S.A.)
Per Capita Consumption 78 litres
Market Volume 3.35 billion litres
Growth +8%

Italy

Position First with a 25% market share (according to Perrier Vittel S.A.)
Per Capita Consumption 175 litres
Market Volume 10 billion litres
Growth 1.4%

France

Position First with a 30% market share (according to Perrier Vittel S.A.)
Per Capita Consumption 123 litres
Market Volume 7.4 billion litres
Growth 8%

Things may be looking good for bottled water of all variants right now though natural springs can run dry, can be polluted, and with demand so strong and the weather, as we all know, so unpredictable how can these companies guarantee supply?

They could buy up all known natural springs, a risk, considering market trends can, like the weather, change direction, and leave companies high and dry.

So to safeguard themselves against changes in what can be volatile market trends, and without the expense of buying up and having to maintain natural springs, the future of the bottled water sector, mineral, flavoured and sparkling could soon depend on not so natural sounding bottling plants.

Manufactured water may not have the same appeal as natural spring water, but it is neutral water and production can easily supply mineral, sparkling and flavoured variants.

It is easier to control the supply of production, maintenance is obviously lower than that of springs, distribution becomes easier, pollution fears are minimal as there are no bacteria risks or impurity fears which are possible with spring water, and as every drink producer has a bottling plant, we could soon see the market become even more competitive as more companies fight for a market share.

Across Europe bars, clubs and supermarkets could soon be stocking bottled water manufactured in least likely countries such as India, where Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Nestle are already fighting for a market share having already successfully launched bottled water in the country this year.

So will we see prices rise for premium natural spring water such as Hildon, which exports around 15%-16% across Europe?

But more interestingly, could we be looking at Coca-Cola joining forces with Evian Volvic, and will we see Evian Volvic/Coca-Cola versus Perrier/Pepsi, in a battle of the water?

Global warming could have a lot to answer for.

1999 Market size (million US$)
Country
Packaged water

France

5045

Germany

7049

Italy

7292

Spain

2234

UK

885

W Europe

22506

Source: Canadean Data Bank