As a beverage category you might be surprised to know that 2017 saw 420 billion liters of bottled water by volume sold globally, worth a staggering $194 billion.

As a judge at the Global Bottled Water Congress and Awards, organized by Zenith Global, based out of Bath, England, I know that water is not, “just water.” Judging water is a remarkable, if not nuanced, experience. Awards are given out for still, sparkling, flavored and functional waters and the best received awards in Evian France in October 2018 at the Global Bottled Water Congress and Awards. Water competitions are nothing new, however Zenith Global makes their water competition unique. In addition to the awards for best tasting waters, there are awards for innovation, sustainability initiatives, product design, even marketing campaigns.

180 delegates from 39 countries including buyers, bottlers, distributors, manufacturers and other water industry professionals gathered for three days in Evian to learn about and celebrate what is happening within the bottled water industry. Some of the take-aways include:

  • Zenith projects that bottled water, including flavored and functional water, will outpace all other beverages categories in 2019.
  • Asia still dominates the bottled water market as China remains the leader in terms of volume sold.
  • 520 million liters of alkaline water are sold worldwide. It’s still a niche product but the category is nonetheless growing.
  • According to Zenith the average person across the globe drinks 62 liters of bottled water each year.

The Congress attracted people from 39 countries

But can the bottled water industry sustain its projected growth? “Better hydration will prove increasingly important to good health throughout all our lives,” says Richard Hall, Zenith Global’s Chairman. “Packaged water is becoming more accepted as healthy, local, convenient and affordable alongside having the lowest environmental impact of all commercial beverages. Our Congress stands apart because they are attended by senior executives who provide special insights as well as networking opportunities.”

Indeed the likes of the Chief Executive of Nestle Waters; the VP of Global Water & Environmental Stewardship at PepsiCo; and the Senior Manager for Public Policy, Environmental Sustainability & Social Impact for the Coco-Cola Company all attended and gave their perspectives on current issues.

But does winning an award here amount to sales? For two years in a row Norway’s Lofoten Artic Water won Best Still Water. “The awards have helped in the social media presence and it has given us more incoming leads because of our increased visibility in the media,” says Ivar Williksen, Chairman of Lofoten Arctic Water.

“We have had the most interest from European, Asian and Middle Eastern markets that we have targeted so far. We have not have much recognition in the Americas yet, but we haven’t started marketing and sales there. That’s our new target going forward.”

The winners and presenters

And just like launching a new spirit, wine or restaurant, it’s a monumental task to stand apart from others regardless of a unique product, packaging, or strong narrative.

“Our long term strategy has been to offer one of the purest waters on the market. It’s impossible for small bottled water companies like us to compete with the giants when it comes to price and distribution so we need an excellent water packed in an iconic bottle distributed and sold in the right places.”

In others words suggests Williksen, “Build your brand step by step in markets where consumers have a willingness to pay for an exclusive product.” 

And the Winners Are…

Best Natural Still Water 

Highlands Beverage Still Water/Australia 

Best Natural Sparkling Water

Magma Cabreiroá/Spain

Best Flavored Water

Icelandic Glacial – Elderflower Sparkling Water/Iceland 

Best Functional Water

Essentia Alkaline Water/US