Spurred by fears over tainted tap water-- and growing obsession with convenience-- bottled water is on track to outsell soda for the first time ever in the U.S.
According to Bloomberg, the world’s biggest bottled-water manufactures, including Nestle, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, say soda sales have been declining for decades as consumers opt for less sugary beverages.
But the lead contamination crisis in Flint, Mich., which brought renewed attention to plumbing systems throughout the country and potentially outdated materials, has played a major role in bottle water's booming business.
“Concerns in places like Flint do bring bottled water to people’s attention as a safe and sealed source of drinking water,” Jane Lazgin, a spokeswoman for Nestle Waters North America, told Bloomberg.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. plumbing systems need about $384 billion to maintain and replace aging pipe systems through 2030. Bottled water is, of course, a more expensive solution to providing potable water than tap. And it’s worse for the environment. But that hasn't keep people in the U.S. from shelling out big bucks for it. According to the International Bottled Water Association, companies were already selling over $13 billion worth of bottled water two years ago.
This year, the average American will drink about 27.4 gallons of water, compared to 26.2 gallons of soda, according to Euromonitor International.
Despite per capita consumption of soft drinks hitting an all-time low in 2015, soda makers haven’t seen big business hits because they’re also the world’s biggest producers of bottled water. Coca-Cola has Dasani, PepsiCo owns Aquafina and Nestle owns Deer Park, Pure Life, Poland Spring among several other major brands.
But bottled-water’s success story isn’t just pure luck. It’s part of a multi-year industry effort to push “healthier” products and push tap water aside.
“When we’re done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes,” Susan Wellington, president of the Quaker Oats Co.’s U.S. beverage division told industry analysts in 2000.
Billions of dollars later, the industry is far from tapping out on bottled water sales.