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Packagers seek water-pack alternatives amidst bottle gloom

06-Apr-2009
Last updated on 07-Apr-2009 at 12:28 GMT

Environmental criticisms over the impact of bottling mineral water is expected to lead to stagnant growth in the segment over the coming year, potentially forcing manufacturers to rethink their packaging, suggests new research.

As bottled waters are expected to see declining growth, suppliers are looking to exploit attacks from some environmental groups and politicians on the packaging by pushing alternatives such as bag in the box and carton solutions.

Research group Canadean predicts that after sustained sales growth over the last decade, the US bottled water market in particular is expected to increase by just under one per cent annually in the next five years.

The group suggests that the falling growth rates could spell particular trouble for the Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) packaging industry. In defending plastic material use, mineral water associations have been quick to point out that, consumers were not generally consuming bottled products to replace tap water, but as a alternative to carbonated and sugary drinks. Recent findings into the beverage packaging market suggest this message may not be getting through to consumers though.

Emily Neill, business development director at Canadean, said that, while bottled waters had amounted for 20 per cent of US PET demand in beverage packs during the ten years up to 2008, this figure was set to be greatly reduced.

High profile tap water campaigns across many US states, and bottled water bans by public institutions have resulted in consumers reverting to tap and filtered water,” stated the analyst. “This is being mirrored in some major European markets such as France and the UK, with the economic conditions reinforcing this trend.”

Alternative push

It is in this market that a number of packaging groups are attempting to look to other methods of providing mineral waters in order to offset potential environmental criticisms.

After launching carton packaging for mineral water products in 19 countries, packager Tetra Pak says it is now pushing a fully recyclable carton on to the US market through collaboration with producer Plant It Water.

Elisa Nistri, category director for juice, nectars, still drinks and food & wine with Tetra Pak, told BeverageDaily.com that despite certain attacks on bottling water, especially over the processes’ environmental footprint, packaging still could be a key driver to sales of the products.

“Package choice can have an important impact on the environment and carton packages have a comparably small environmental footprint across their entire life cycle,” said Nistri.

The spokesperson claimed that its carton products, which consist of about 70 per cent renewable materials like wood-derived cartonboard, could reduce production cost compared to bottles.

“Cartons are also light and easy to stack and store, which saves energy as well as transport costs,” stated the group. “These features are also practical for consumers, particularly ‘portion packs’ which can be taken to the beach or on a picnic”.

The company added that it still had to use a plastic like polyethylene in the carton to provide some barrier qualities, but would work on developing cartons that can be derived from wholly renewable products.

Bag-in-box

Tetra Pak is not the only company that has been working to push bottle alternatives into the mineral water market though.

A spokesperson for Rapak said earlier this year that, despite additional criticism from some governments and organisations’ over packaging tap-available resources like water, interest in mineral products will remain resilient.

Stephanie Humez claimed that the company had seen large growth over the decade for bag-in-box water solutions, which she said provide a number of sustainable and functional benefits to store mineral water.

“Bag-in-box generates up to five times less waste than rigid containers, thanks to the fact that empty packs collapse fully to reduce space during disposal and the cardboard outer is fully recyclable,” stated Humez.

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