How sustainability took over the bottled water conversation

13th June 2019

Bottled water is big. According to the International Bottled Water Association and the Beverage Marketing Corporation, it’s the number one beverage product in the U.S. by volume, and growing (by 7% between 2017 and 2018).

What about the online bottled water conversation? Also sizable. There are on average around 1k posts per day about the top bottled water brands across Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, blogs, news and forums.

Researching the top bottled water brands in the US (Dasani, Aquafina, Pure Life, Smart Water) as well as other popular brands like Evian and Fiji, and new players like Liquid Death and Boxed Water, we found that over the past few years, what these posts are saying has changed in one important way.

Here’s the topic breakdown in 2015…

2015 bottled water conversation

And here are the main topics in 2019:

2019 water pie

The more than doubling of the share of the sustainability conversation reflects a worldwide trend in a growth in concern about sustainability topics, best exemplified by teenager Greta Thunberg’s Climate Strike movement. People are starting to turn on their favorite brands.

Bottled water’s success was through the growth of success of single serve bottles - which are everything sustainability advocates despise. Single-serve bottles are currently 66.9% of US water sales.

So inevitably it has become essential for the bottled water brands to try and advert this sustainability backlash by creating recyclable bottles, as this WSJ article describes. Danone, owners of Evian, told the Wall Street Journal that "marketing about the recycling plan helped Evian sales climb 6% in the first nine months of the year."

The growth in this segment of the conversation has come at the expense of the health conversation, which has shrunk from 31.9% of conversation in 2015 to just 11.7% today, just over one third.

This likely reflects a shift in the consumption. Beverage Marketing Corporation data from the past two decades shows that a large part of the sales growth for bottled water is the result of a consumer shift from sugar-sweetened beverages to bottled water.

This shift has also seen the biggest bottled water brands in the US become ones that are owned by beverage conglomerates like PepsiCo (Aquafina), Coca-Cola (Dasani) and Nestle (Poland Springs) and Danone (Évian), meaning the businesses survived as consumer tastes changed. Their next challenge is to ride the sustainability wave.

Here's the share of voice in the US for the brands we analyzed:

share of water voice

New players are also coming along, going down the direct-to-consumer (DTC) route: take for instance Hint, or recent media darling Liquid Death caused a marketing stir - at least for a couple of days.

The main theme of Twitter conversation around Liquid Death’s launch was that ‘it’s just water’. Why would anyone care? Which seems like the entire marketing play the company is riding (it calls itself a “completely unnecessary approach to bottled water”)

The extreme marketing of Liquid Death reflects the growth in conversation about marketing around waters, which has nearly doubled - from 6.4% of conversation to 13.1%. And unsurprisingly, Liquid Death, and most of the waters are using the environment in their marketing, forgoing previous messages about purity and taste.

Although at 29% of the conversation, taste is the second biggest conversation segment today, often in negative:

...and positive forms:

Many people love making a joke about their water loyalties. But coupled with the sustainability conversation, this loyalty is now beginning to switch to branded re-fillable water bottles from brands such as S'Well, Chillys and Hydro Flask, which have become a status symbol, amongst millennials at least.

The research in this post was carried out through our social listening tool Pulsar TRAC. If you'd like to see it in action, request a demo of Pulsar here.