Chemically treated tap water, although obviously potable, has left a bad taste in shoppers' mouths, thus forcing them to find alternative sources of purer water. Many grocers have tossed an inexpensive water-filter life preserver to those shoppers flailing down the river of "too many chemicals."
Albeit a quiet media issue when compared to environmental buzzwords like global warming and endangered species, concerns over the available amount of drinkable water are rising. Solutions for that potential health hazard have many shoppers looking toward their food and drink providers. This cresting trend toward healthier water sources has caused supermarkets to satiate customers' thirst.
Bottled water certainly is the wave of choice as a result of convenience and impulse buys. Bobbing along at a steady pace, however, are sales of water filters and purifiers.
"The demand for water purification systems has increased, especially in those areas with less purified water (more chemicals in it)," said Betsy Turgeon, health and beauty care buyer at Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass.
"Also, the more consumers become educated on the benefits of water purification, the better the demand," she added.
Sometimes a full in-aisle display, but mostly a few shelves in the water aisle, water filtration systems are netting extra sales from water shoppers.
"These [water purifiers] have been integrated within the water department. A few stores have a dedicated four-foot section, said Big Y's Turgeon.
Brita, the most popular brand, was the primary filter and pitcher company stocked at the grocery chain locations SN polled.
According to a store manager at a Kroger store in Columbus, Ohio, the location sells a full kit, which includes a Brita pitcher and filter, to get customers started. Replacement filters are stocked as well. "Our sales of water filters are fairly brisk," the store manager said.
Normally, the Ohio Kroger stocks its filtration systems on the shelf with bottled water. During this past holiday season, however, the store displayed a power wing, which was placed on the opposite side of the store from bottled water. "We sold right through it," the store manager said.
By merchandising bottled water and filtering systems adjacent to one another, one might think that one category might capsize the sales of the other. Of the retailers interviewed by SN, all of them said the merchandising has little to no effect on sales.
"Shoppers still buy bottled water because it's easier to use in the house," said another store manager from an Atlanta-based Kroger.
"Some people don't want to be bothered with pitchers, they'd rather buy a jug," added a Harris Teeter store representative in Atlanta.
He added that sales have eddied out, possibly due to water-dispensing refrigerators with built-in purification systems.
At another Harris Teeter location in Charlotte, N.C., a store manager said his sales of water filters are moderate, but may be growing as a result of the area around the store attracting more people.
"We have them over by bottled water. It doesn't cause any harm to their sales. Folks use the filters at home for making iced tea," he explained.
Other supermarkets don't carry water filters at all.
Spartan Stores and Seaway Food Town are two such companies. "We're the food people," said Karen Aylsworth, public relations consultant at Spartan, Grand Rapids, Mich. Her company puts more emphasis on carrying food rather than things such as water purifiers. "I don't know why," she added.