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Water sales continue to increase in pubs as more people opt for a healthier lifestyle or decide to drink it with their meals. Adam Withrington...

Water sales continue to increase in pubs as more people opt for a healthier lifestyle or decide to drink it with their meals. Adam Withrington reports.

Arguably the most fascinating trend in the overall drinks market over the last five to 10 years has not been the boom and (possible) bust of the ready-to-drink (RTD) market, nor the amazing growth in the wine market. It has, in fact, been the extraordinary growth in the consumption of bottled water.

While soft drinks sales remain pretty constant, the graph on water sales remains on a pretty steep upward trajectory.

How many people did you see walking around with bottles of water in their hands 10 years ago? Hardly any, I would venture, unless they were leaving the gym. Now grabbing a bottle of water is as much a part of many people's daily routine as texting on their mobiles. Last year's UK Bottled Water Report, published by water producer Well Well Well, predicted that the UK's spending on bottled water would rise to £910m by 2007.

This trend has inevitably moved into the on-trade. AC Nielsen's latest statistics show that sales for 2004 hit £261m, which equates to an average consumer spend of around £3.55 per litre.

With soft drinks taking a greater role in the pub offer, thanks to the push towards responsible drinking and the growth in pub food, the well of opportunity for bottled water in pubs has only just been tapped into.

However, it is not an easy market to crack. Over the past year, Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) has had to endure all manner of mickey-taking over the failure of its bottled water brand Dasani. It had hoped to double its share of the market with the launch of the brand - produced by purifying tap water.

However, at the end of March last year CCE confirmed it would withdraw all stocks of Dasani after the water was found to contain higher levels of the chemical bromate than permitted under UK food safety regulations.

Potential there for leap in sales

In January Nestlé set up its own focused on-trade division for its water brands which include Buxton, Ashbourne, Vittel, Perrier, S Pellegrino and Acqua Panna. Until January 2004 most of these were distributed by CCE outside the grocery sector. However, a decision was made to take the brands back in-house in a more focused division, able to service the needs of on-trade customers. Here Nick Whatmoor, horeca controller at Nestlé Waters, discusses the company's plans, its brands and how licensees can really make best use of bottled water in pubs:

Over the past few years the water market within the on-trade sector has been in continuous growth. This is mainly due to the change in consumer habits - people now know the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle.

However, there remains huge potential for increased sales in the on-trade. This is because of the ever-changing attitudes and focus of soft drinks firms which now offer more of a variety of soft drink products which are, in turn, better represented by the major on-trade operators within their outlets. And the move away from lunchtime drinking has definitely helped the sales of soft drinks, including water.

As water continues to become a sought-after soft drink alternative, I firmly believe that, over the next five years, sales in the on-trade will continue to rise. A focus on healthy lifestyles will continue, and increased government and trade pressure towards sensible drinking will also help grow the sector.

Extended licensing hours will offer additional opportunities for the water market. Manufacturers and pub operators will need to work together to harness these opportunities. This can happen through pubs educating their staff to promote water at the table and making it visible behind the bar.

Water is a key growth area for pubs and it is just as important to stock the right range of waters as it is for other soft drinks and beers. It says something to customers about the quality of the outlet. A pub should not underestimate the effect stocking a range has on the customer and just because they do not complain about a lack of choice, it does not mean that they do not notice.

  • Opportunity to trade up

The opportunity for water with food has huge potential and I am pleased to see that a large number of outlets are beginning to take advantage of this. There still remains a large education programme to be done in some areas, however, and this can be achieved very simply. When serving food at a table, staff should always ask customers whether they would like to have a bottle of water with their meal as well as other drinks. It has been shown that, when prompted, on many occasions customers will agree to having a bottle of water. Adding water to a wine list can also help increase sales and a wine and water combination deal can be a sales driver.

  • Children

Water is becoming an increasingly acceptable drink for children, particularly in the different packaging formats and flavours now available. Recent published research shows that popularity of water in the teenage market has risen over the last four years with a 39 per cent increase in the number of drinkers in restaurants. Water manufacturers need to up to speed on this.

  • The perfect serve

Within the on-trade, over-the-bar water is predominantly served chilled in a glass. In the more stylish outlets, bartenders also serve the drink chilled and with a straw.

As a preference I would like to see a quarter of the bottle poured chilled into a long glass, leaving the remainder for the consumer to add themselves.

Ice should never be added as in the majority of cases this is tap water and could totally alter the product's make-up. A slice of lemon or lime is up to customer choice, but as the majority of bottled water today is of such high quality, anything added will detract from the water itself. When serving water at a table with food it should be treated like wine and served chilled and in a tulip glass.

Related topics Soft & Hot Drinks

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