Putting A New Spin On The Bottle

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It made national news – for several days actually – earlier this spring. For the first time ever, bottled water surpassed carbonated soft drinks in 2016 to become the largest beverage category by volume in the U.S.

According to Beverage Marketing Corp., total bottled water volume grew from 11.8 billion gallons in 2015 to 12.8 billion gallons in 2016, an increase of nearly 9 percent, and marking the third year in a row of accelerating growth.

“Bottled water effectively reshaped the beverage marketplace,” says Michael C. Bellas, chairman and CEO of New York-based Beverage Marketing Corp. “Where once it would have been unimaginable to see Americans walking down the street carrying plastic bottles of water, or driving around with them in their cars’ cup holders, now that’s the norm.”

Retailers are witnessing the change too – and have reset their beverage aisles as a result.

“Water is expanding dramatically; pop is shrinking,” says Dan McNabb, owner of a Supervalu-supplied SHOP ‘n SAVE store in Cranberry Township, Pa., outside Pittsburgh. “All of the beverages perceived as healthy have been increasing. LaCroix 12-packs [of flavored carbonated water] have been booming for us over pop.”

But maybe retailers – at least on the West Coast – had better not make those shelf resets too permanent.

In January, I was in San Francisco for the Winter Fancy Food Show and had the pleasure of staying at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis. One of the first things I noticed upon entering my room was the bar tray on the bureau next to the TV set with its glasses turned upside down resting on their little paper coasters accompanied by a large poster with the headline: “WHERE IS BOTTLED WATER?” with “BOTTLED” placed in a box to further highlight it.

“At the San Francisco Marriott Marquis, we are committed to protecting the environment and the city of San Francisco’s initiative of zero water waste,” the poster read.

“In alignment with the city of San Francisco’s initiative to eliminate bottled water, we are pleased to provide filtered, electrolyte enfused [sic] and alkaline water from our Flowater stations located in the Lobby, 2nd Floor and the M Lounge. A reusable water bottle can be purchased from the Mission Street Pantry,” the hotel’s first floor convenience store.

“Thank you for helping us eliminate 10 to 15 million bottles that would have negatively impacted our environment,” the poster concluded.

Ironically, the empty refillable water bottles the Market Street Pantry was peddling were $4.95, or some such ridiculously high price, making it seem like this was an easy profit center for the hotel.

Luckily, the City Target on the next corner had a wide assortment of bottled water. I bought one for around $1.89 to carry with me at the show and refilled it at the 2nd Floor Flowater station for the rest of my stay.

Still, it makes me wonder if San Francisco has an “initiative to eliminate bottled water” how long will it be before a hefty tax is placed on bottled water sold in supermarkets?


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