Austin, Texas — People drank more bottled water than ever in the United States last year, and more water than ever was consumed from single-serve PET containers.
Research from the New York-based consulting firm Beverage Market Corp. shows bottled water became the largest beverage category ever for the country in 2021, surpassing carbonated soft drink's all-time high of 15.3 billion gallons in 2004.
"There's no reason to think that will not happen again this year because bottled water continues to grow," said Gary Hemphill, managing director at BMC, Feb. 15 at The Packaging Conference in Austin.
Bottled water accounted for 24.6 percent of the U.S. beverage market last year, Hemphill said, according to preliminary results. That's up from 23.6 percent in 2020 and 18.7 percent in 2015.
Carbonated soft drinks (CSD) represented 18.7 percent of the total U.S. beverage market volume in 2021, up from 18.4 percent in 2020, but still down from the 20.3 percent total posted in 2015.
This uptick also can be expressed as a 2.2 percent volume increase within just the CSD category, a reversal from a 3.7 percent decrease in CSD volume in 2020 as COVID-19 curtailed movement and out-of-home experiences.
"One of the interesting things that happened last year is that carbonated soft drinks actually grew," Hemphill said. "It's kind of a big event if you are selling carbonated soft drinks or if you are drinking them. It's nice that the category has rebounded a little bit."
Last year's CSD rebound reversed a 16-year trend of consumption decreases in that category, Hemphill said.
Hemphill said that despite the increase, the uptick could be short-lived.
"I think the big question going forward is if this rebound is sustainable. We'll see about that," he said.
Even though CSD companies have endured eroding demand, the market has been able to counteract the volume declines with price increases. "On a dollar basis, the category is doing very well, lest you feel for the category," Hemphill said.
Milk, another beverage that commonly is packaged in plastic, had an 8.1 percent share last year, down from 8.4 percent in 2020 and 9.3 percent in 2015, BMC reported.