A bottled water moment

February 15, 2013

It's now being called the "sip of water heard 'round the world."

Sen. Marco Rubio was tasked to deliver the GOP's response to President Obama's State of the Union address. Apparently, that can leave one feeling rather parched.

In case you missed it, in the middle of his speech, Rubio took a second to take a sip from a half-pint Poland Spring bottled water and then immediately went back to reading from the teleprompter.

Needless to say, it was pretty random and awkward, and it caused social media to explode with mentions of Poland Spring, along with a high amount of activity mocking Rubio. According to search statistics, Poland Spring became an instant online buzzword. In an effort to make light of his action, Rubio posted a picture on Twitter of a Poland Spring bottled water, with the label prominently displayed.

Politics aside, I immediately wondered if this kind of publicity will equal more sales for Poland Spring, which is owned by Nestle Waters North America.

Jane Lazgin, spokesperson for Nestle Waters told NBC News, "It would be nice if all of the enthusiastic response resulted in a sales bump." But said her company didn't have figures available at that time, although the company's marketing office is monitoring all the hype.

After "bottle-gate," Poland Spring posted a picture on its Facebook page showing a Poland Spring bottled water in front of a mirror. "Reflecting on our cameo," the post read. "What a night!"

Also, Poland Spring released this statement to CNBC, "We're glad Poland Spring was close at hand for Sen. Rubio last night at his moment of need for refreshment."

Bottled water market

Whether or not Poland Spring is able to seize on this attention, current estimates are that Americans spend more than $100 billion a year on bottled water, with 54% of the population drinking some type of bottled water.

But it's not always calm waters for the industry. On one hand, the product is considered a healthy alternative to high-calorie soda but on the other hand, it takes a hit for waste and environmental concerns. In fact, several college campuses and a town in Massachusetts have even banned bottled water.

Still, the bottled water market remains strong.

At The Packaging Conference (Feb. 4-6; Atlanta, GA) Gary Hemphill, managing director at Beverage Marketing Corp., said after experiencing a decline due to the economic recession, bottled water volume has rebounded, with accelerated growth in each of the last three years.

For 2012, Beverage Marketing Corp. is reporting that bottled water grew by 5.6%.

"A lot is being driven by its positioning as a healthy beverage," Hemphill said. "When you look at the overall segment, the single-serve PET bottle is driving the growth. The category is also getting a boost from aggressive pricing."

After years of declines, tap water consumption grew in 2010 and 2011, but performance began to level off in 2012. Hemphill said that one true test of the industry's health is measured by tap waters performance. When tap water consumption declines again, it will be a sign that the industry has regained its growth trajectory.

Bottled water is so common, that it's interesting to think it's just a plain beverage as compared to soda and juices, which have a bit more freedom to innovate the product. Bottled water really is just ... water. Hemphill said this is one reason packaging plays a key role because it allows companies to diversify and distinguish itself from the competition.

"Packaging is hugely important, almost as important as the product itself," he said. "A lot of companies don't have big marketing budgets so they put their efforts into packaging."

As pouches continue to gain momentum in the beverage sector, an audience member asked Hemphill if pouches could possibly take some market share from traditional bottled water packaging.  

"PET will continue to dominate the beverage market, water in particular," he said. "Producers have done an amazing job with lightweighting and answering environmental concerns, this allows the bottled water to tell a good story. PET is just great all around."

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