Sparkling or still? Bottled or tap? Choosing the right water for your business

09 September 2016
Sparkling or still? Bottled or tap? Choosing the right water for your business

As hydration becomes an increasing concern for consumers, Anne Bruce discovers what different waters say about your business

Healthy hydration is a thing in 2016, and that means consumers are likely to be wanting a bottle of pure chilled water alongside their Chardonnay or a cheeky sparkling number to jazz up their lunch.

While purveyors of sugary drinks have the threat of 2018's sugar tax hanging over their heads, the bottled water sector has very little to complain about. Sales have been rising continually over the past few years and new figures from the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) suggest that in 2015 total bottled water sales across all channels increased by 8.2% to 2.56 billion litres, or 39.4 litres a head.

But while all agree that sales of water in the foodservice sector are buoyant, suppliers are suggesting that many still treat water as a commodity and that an opportunity to sprinkle some marketing fairy dust on the category is being missed.

The EcoPure water range

At the top end of the market, the issue is communicating the provenance of your product, says James Burston, Hildon Natural Mineral Water's sales and marketing director. Hildon sells to luxury restaurants and has to communicate to operators that its possibly generic-sounding natural mineral water is the most exclusive water option, when its rivals may be marketing the more attractive-sounding artesian water.

Burston explains: "What falls as rain today will be ready to drink in 65 years when it has processed through seven layers of chalky soil in our 200-acre nature reserve in Hampshire."

At the super-premium end of the market, operators could consider offering a menu with different tasting waters, treating it the same way as wine, where Hildon could be seen as the water equivalent of an aged Rioja, Burston suggests. He adds: "What I do not understand is where a restaurant has provenance and traceability built into everything it serves, and then it compromises on quality at the last minute in its choice of water."

Meanwhile, Highland Spring commercial director Simon Oldham says the last year has been a busy one for the company, which is now bottling 500 million litres of water a year.

Highland Spring is worth over £24m in the on-trade and growing ahead of the water category at +3.7%, according to the latest on-premise measurement service data from analyst firm CGA.

Oldham says bottled water has been going through a boom period, which started in 2013. 'Healthy hydration' has grabbed the headlines and the sugar tax announcement this year has reinforced the market, he says.

In foodservice, the trends of provenance and quality are driving the market. People are looking for a quality brand they can trust and the taste of the water is important. Water should be given visibility in restaurants, Oldham urges. Many restaurants don't stock sparkling water, which is missing an opportunity as customers are swapping from juices and sugary drinks to water.

He adds: "There is so much more that the industry can do to make water more interesting - it is not just a commodity. Many sandwich shops do not sell water, for example. Put water in front of people and they will want it."

Matthew Orme, managing director at Wenlock Spring, says that bottled water gives the operator a great profit margin and should be served with the same care and attention that you would serve a fine wine - perfectly chilled and in a stylish glass.

The bottle should be opened in front of the guest and poured with care and finesse. If you provide details on the brand and its provenance, guests will understand why you have selected this particular water for your menu.

With consumption forecast by Zenith International to increase from 44 litres per person in 2015 to 63 litres in 2020, operators need to be responding to this demand, he says.

Hidden benefits

The bottled water category is also seeing new product development activity, in functional or flavoured varieties. The premium bottled product Willow Water provides a refreshing taste and is enriched with salicin and calcium, delivering a health message, says Michelle Chadwick, brand manager at Halewood Wines & Spirits. She says that in a food setting, water can affect the overall dining experience. "There is an increased demand for water… and consumers are switching to healthier alternatives due to public awareness around sugar."

And William Bomer, managing director of Kingsdown Natural Spring Water, says bottled spring waters have played an important part in the growth of premium adult soft drinks in recent years.

Kingsdown has introduced a range of sparkling pressés to take advantage of the opportunities on offer and provide a sophisticated, grown-up alternative to conventional sugary soft drinks. They are made from Kingsdown sparkling spring water and natural juices, such as Sicilian lemons, Spanish oranges, British rhubarb, apples and elderflowers.

Do it yourself

Paul Proctor, managing director of EcoPure Waters, argues that there are many pluses to choosing to serve filtered water. "By producing your own drinking water through a mains filtration system and serving it in your own bottles, you can save money, improve your sustainability and boost your brand," he says.

He recommends that freshly filtered and chilled water, still and sparkling, served in elegant bottles, should be on every customer's table and in every guest's bedroom. Filtering your own water costs much less per litre than buying bottled water. A chilled still and sparkling water system can be installed, with free bottles, dishwasher trays and carry-crates. And there are a number of alternative bottle styles, including several with tamper-evident caps.

And Clark McIlroy, managing director at trend-spotting company Red Star Beverages, says that the water market is often overlooked, but operators ignore it at their peril.

He says: "There is an increasing diversity of product types encompassing the pure, still waters, to the value-add varieties, which include additional vitamins, electrolytes, minerals and even tree sap. Clearly, the differentiated packaging options also allow consumers to enjoy a more premium experience in a hotel, restaurant, or business meeting setting."

He says that the water market is as diverse as its customers, who are savvier than ever. Purists want completely natural mineral water, and there is a growing number of consumers who are seeking the benefits of hydration but who demand more in terms of taste and functionality. As a result there has been a blurring around the edges with sub-categories evolving to encompass juice content, coconut water and watermelon, for example. McIlroy adds: "It is important to keep abreast of these trends and cater for the demands of the savvy millennial consumer. The water category, in its broadest sense, is well placed to enjoy significant growth for some time to come."

While it may often still come in under the radar for many foodservice operators, bottled water is a high margin, healthy choice that is bang on trend. Maybe it should be presented not as a trusty old workhorse, but instead as the lynchpin of the drinks menu?

The Kingsdown sparkling range

The stats

According to new figures from the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA), in 2015 total bottled water sales across all channels increased by 8.2% to 2.56 billion litres, or 39.4 litres a head. Water took a 19.3% share of the overall soft drinks market, up from 17.8% the previous year.

Some 24.9% of bottled water was sold on premises (including in hospitality and institutions) and 75.1% of bottled water was sold in retail, it says.

Drinks research body Canadean's figures, which were used by the BSDA, show that 68% of these sales were mineral water, while 8% were bottled spring and 25% were bottled drinking water. Some 66% was still, 17% sparkling and 17% water cooler.


BaxterStorey supplies more than 600 outlets with nearly 20 water brands, including Harrogate, Evian and Hildon. Category manager Tara Sephton says: "Across BaxterStorey locations there has been a 4% increase in bottled water sales this year compared with 2015. Awareness of sugar content in food and drink, whether refined or natural, has increased. This has led to some customers choosing bottled water instead of popular juice and ready-to-drink beverages such as squash and bottled smoothies."

Green water?

There are three choices when it comes to water: natural mineral, spring and tap. Any flavoured or functional waters are categorised as soft drinks, says the British Bottled Water Producers body.

Natural mineral water has to be from an identified and protected source. It is guaranteed to be consistent in composition and naturally wholesome without any treatment (apart from carbon dioxide to make it sparkle, if required).

Spring water must originate from an underground source, be bottled at source and be microbiologically safe. However, certain treatments are permitted for spring waters to allow the removal of certain undesirable substances.

Jo Jacobius, director of British Bottled Water Producers, says: "By supporting British water producers, people are helping support firms that act as stewards of the UK countryside as, in order to retain their natural and spring water status, the water must be drawn from unpolluted sources deep underground."

Meanwhile, serving filtered tap water offers the option of reusing bottles and saving on packaging costs, tap water filtration suppliers suggest.


EcoPure Waters

Halewood Wines & Spirits

Highland Spring



Red Star Beverages

Wenlock Spring

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