It all started so well. With one of the warmest Aprils ever recorded, the summer of 2007 was predicted to be an absolute scorcher, prompting retailers, manufacturers and suppliers all over the UK to gear up for a huge surge in bottled water sales. But sadly, four rain-soaked, wind-ravaged months later, they are all still waiting.
Summer 2007 appears to have slipped by the wayside, with shoppers across the country reaching for their wellies and waterproofs instead of sunscreen and soft drinks, leaving spirits and sales more than a little damp.
The industry is concerned. The three months from June to August have traditionally been the most profitable for water manufacturers and retailers, accounting for a massive 35% of all water unit sales for the year.
However, while there may have been a shortage of sun, the calendar has been replete with numerous sporting and cultural events for the big brands to get involved with.
Buxton renewed its status as the official mineral water for the Wimbledon tennis championships for the seventh year running. It also launched a new £2m marketing support programme to draw attention to its 'natural credentials'. Highland Spring launched a new sponsorship deal with Scottish Formula 1 ace, David Coulthard, and Italian water brand Ferrarelle was named as the official water of Taste of London, Fashion Week and the Foreign Press Association's awards. There's also been a storm of new product developments and packaging revamps.
Iconic water brand Evian was refreshed with a vibrant new pink livery and a £3m TV and poster campaign in May, while leading soft drinks company Britvic launched a £2.4m advertising campaign to raise awareness of its new-look contemporary water brand, Drench.
The last few months have also seen a number of bottled water manufacturers climb aboard the green bandwagon, with many of the UK's big names - including top 10 water brand Harrogate Spa - reformulating their packaging and introducing lighter PET bottles.
And while it might not feel like it just yet, weather forecasters are now predicting that summer could be set to make a belated appearance in late August and September.
Steve Flanagan, category strategy manager at Danone Waters, which is set to boost its marketing spend by 15% in an effort to increase consumption in the UK, is warning retailers to be ready for when
it does happen.
"It's easy to underestimate how quickly soft drinks will sell," he says. "A change in the temperature can trigger a noticeable shift in water sales, making it imperative for retailers to be fully prepared."
Last year's hot summer prompted over 1.3bn litres of bottled water to be drunk in the UK, with thirsty on the go shoppers spending almost £75,000 an hour on bottled water - far too big an opportunity to miss out on. Flanagan advises retailers to ensure that they are stocking all the best selling brands across the key growth categories such as still, flavoured and functional, to really maximise sales, especially if, as predicted, the weather suddenly improves.
Despite the depressing weather, the flavoured water category has continued to enjoy strong growth over the past year as health concious consumers opt for healther alternatives to carbonated drinks. The segment is now worth over £165m and is growing at 25% year on year, according to AC Nielsen (MAT 10/03/07).
Britvic's Robinsons Fruit Shoot H20 has continued to perform admirably over the last year, according to sales director Andrew Richards. "Robinsons Fruit Shoot H20 provides a fun, cool and great tasting drink that children love. Mums also love it because it gives children a healthier and hydrating option, making it an ideal accompaniment for the school lunch box and activity times."
Villa Soft Drinks added two new flavours to its Hadrian Clear still water range in June, as did Saka natural mineral water. "The great thing for convenience stores is that these flavoured varients virtually sell themselves," says Saka sales and marketing director Nevid Ahmed. "They tick all the boxes: smooth tasting, healthy natural mineral water with no added
sugar, attractively bottled and competitively priced."
The last few months have also seen a whole host of new 'functional' or value-added water drinks hit the shelves.
With their fat burning, energy boosting and skin purifying qualities, these types of beverage
are enjoying mounting growth whatever the weather.
And there's another novel growth area for bottled water. Apparently, demand is not just growing from human beings, but from the animal world too.
Unbelievably, research now indicates that over 10% of UK pet owners now give their precious pooches and moggies bottled mineral water to drink.
Responding to this growing demand is French company Special Waters, which launched its dog and cat water brands Water Cat and Water Dog earlier in the year.
The three keys to success
There are three key areas where retailers can really make a difference to the profits from their bottled water category, says Steve Flanagan, category strategy manager at Danone Waters.
By focusing on the availability of water brands, especially during the warmer months, retailers will notice a significant difference in their sales. They should ensure that the water fixture is fully merchandised to cope with demand, especially during peak sales times such as lunchtime.
Brand names are increasingly becoming a factor in consumers' decision-making processes, so stocking the best selling brands is imperative. As consumers take only an average of 11 seconds to choose a soft drink, retailers need to make the choice clear. If a shopper comes into your store to purchase bottled water and their preferred brand is not there, they may walk out, taking with them the potential profit from associated purchases.
Retailers need to be aware that bottled water is now seen as a soft drink and a drink of choice, and so it needs to be given the space in-store that it deserves. Danone Waters recommend retailers ensure they dedicate at least 33% of space to water alone.
Five of the best
Top five water brands (in the independent 'drink now' category) (Nielsen May 2007):
2. Highland Spring
4. Vittel Bonne Source
5. Volvic Touch of Fruit