How home and office delivery play into bottled water growth

Oct. 13, 2023
Bottled water volume and sales reached new heights in 2022 and are set to continue in 2023, according to preliminary data from the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC).

Health and wellness are now top goals for most people today as we settle back into new routines following the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, consumer focus on healthy hydration has never been stronger, as bottled water volume and sales reached new heights in 2022 and are set to continue in 2023, according to preliminary data from the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC). 

Home and office delivery (HOD), which includes 3- and 5-gallon returnable bottles of water, is leading this growth after losing market share in the past decade. 

“HOD is the star performing bottled water segment in 2023,” said BMC’s CEO Michael Bellas. “In addition to traditional HOD, we’re seeing strong growth in 5-gallon water sold at retail along with the 5-gallon exchange business.”  

Bellas speculates that one growth-driving factor is consumers who continue to work remotely following the pandemic and are purchasing 3- and 5-gallon HOD bottles either at grocery stores or through the convenience of home delivery.  

Consumer safety

Consumers who choose HOD as their drinking water preference have the added confidence that the content is consistently safety, high quality, good tasting and convenient. By federal law, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations governing the safety and quality of bottled water must be as protective of public health as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for tap water. And, in some cases, such as lead, the bottled water regulations are more stringent. On a gallon-per-gallon basis, bottled water is required to be tested 36 times more often than tap water. 

FDA has established bottled water Standards of Quality (SOQs) for more than 90 substances (21 C.F.R. § 165.110 (b)). The vast majority of FDA bottled water quality standards are the same as EPA’s maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for tap water systems. The few differences are usually the results of the substance (usually tap water disinfectant byproducts) not being found in bottled water or the substance being regulated under another provision of law, such as FDA’s food additives program. 

With increasing concern over PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) contamination in tap water, consumers who purchase bottled water from members of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) have the added assurance that the water has been tested for PFAS. Currently, neither the EPA, which regulates tap water, or FDA, which regulates bottled water, has enforceable regulations for PFAS in drinking water. However, although not mandated by FDA, IBWA requires its members to test for 18 PFAS substances in all the products they sell. In addition, IBWA member companies must meet the following SOQs for PFAS in their bottled water products: 

  • 5 parts per trillion (ppt) for detection of a single PFAS compound 
  • 10 ppt for detection of two or more PFAS compounds 

IBWA’s PFAS actions underscore the commitment of IBWA members to always provide consumers with the safest and highest quality bottled water products. Testing for PFAS provides consumers, local and state governments, and disaster and emergency relief personnel further assurance that bottled water is a safe and convenient product for everyday use and in times of need when tap water is compromised. 

Water packaging

Taste and odor are other reasons consumers choose HOD bottled water at home. Public water systems most often use chlorine to disinfect tap water, which can have a taste and smell that they prefer to avoid. Bottled water producers, on the other hand, use ozonation, a form of supercharged oxygen, and/or ultraviolet light as the final disinfecting agent, neither of which leaves an aftertaste. To help ensure that bottled water is safe and of the highest quality possible, all IBWA members use one or more of the following steps found in a multi-barrier approach to help prevent possible harmful contamination to the finished product: source protection and monitoring, reverse osmosis, distillation, filtration, ozonation and disinfection. 

HOD bottled water is commonly packaged in either polycarbonate (PC) plastic or polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Both plastic packaging types are fully approved by FDA for beverage use—and both are 100% recyclable.    

Polycarbonate plastic has been a packaging material used for food and beverage product containers for more than 50 years because it is lightweight, highly shatter-resistant, and transparent. Some bottled water companies use polycarbonate plastic for their 3- and 5-gallon water cooler bottles. In addition to food containers, it has been widely used in many other everyday items, such as eyeglasses and compact discs. As with all food packaging materials, bottled water containers made from polycarbonate are approved by FDA for food contact.  

PET plastic, easily identified by the #1 recycling code on or near the bottom of the container, is probably the bottled water packaging material most people recognize. PET plastic is 100% recyclable and used to make HOD bottles as well as convenient, portable 16.9-ounce (half-liter), and kid-friendly 8-ounce bottled water containers. But bottled water containers are not the only food product packaged in PET plastic. A variety of foods – everything from peanut butters, salad dressings, pasta sauces, baked goods, soft drinks, fruit juices, beer, wine and spirits – are available in PET plastic containers.  

The 3-and 5-gallon bottles found on home and office bottled water coolers are sanitized and re-used dozens of times before the bottled water company removes them from the marketplace and recycles them. This is why the bottled water industry is considered one of the “original recyclers.” 

Most bottled water companies in the United States are small, second and third generation family businesses that have deep roots and strong ties to their communities. 

FDA not only approved the packaging for bottled water but also has strict standards of identity for bottled water. FDA requires that the “type” of water must be clearly printed on the label of all bottled water sold in the United States. HOD bottled water is commonly available in spring and purified water. 

Spring water is water derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the earth's surface. Spring water must be collected only at the spring or through a borehole tapping the underground formation feeding the spring. Spring water collected with the use of an external force must be from the same underground stratum as the spring, must have all the physical properties before treatment, and must be of the same composition and quality as the water that flows naturally to the surface of the earth. 

Purified water is water that has been produced by distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis, or other suitable processes while meeting the definition of “purified water” in the U.S. Pharmacopeia 23rd Revision. Other suitable product names for bottled water treated by one of the above processes include “distilled water” if it is produced by distillation, “deionized water” if it is produced by deionization, or “reverse osmosis water” if the process used is reverse osmosis.  

Bottled water companies put as much care into their packaging as they do their water, opting for materials that protect the health and safety of their consumers while leaving a small environmental footprint. Producing, transporting, and recycling plastic bottled water containers use much less energy than aluminum, cartons, and glass containers. All bottled water containers are 100% recyclable, including the cap (but only when it is attached to the bottle). 

Bottled water storage

A common question that IBWA gets is: “How long can you store bottled water?” It might surprise people to know that the FDA has not established a shelf life for bottled water. IBWA advises consumers to store bottled water at room temperature (or cooler), out of direct sunlight, and away from solvents and chemicals such as gasoline, paint thinners and dry-cleaning chemicals. Bottled water can be used indefinitely if stored properly. That is why many people opt to use HOD bottles of water as part of the emergency preparedness kits. 

In choosing an HOD water cooler, many bottled water companies give consumers the option to choose an ENERGY STAR bottled water cooler. ENERGY STAR is the government-backed symbol for energy efficiency sponsored by the EPA and U.S. Department of Energy. ENERGY STAR products are more efficient and save money on your electric bills. They are also better for the environment because they do not waste resources. 

BMC is projecting continued growth in the HOD segment for the near future as consumers continue to appreciate the convenience and safety of home delivery water that has been around for more than 100 years. 

About the Author

Jill Culora

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