Enhanced water may be soaking up strong sales, but regular bottled water is drenched with consumer demand as well.
Concerns about terrorism have aided what was already a strong category, according to several retailers polled by SN.
At Fairway Market, New York, bottled water sales are up about 54% this year compared to last year. The three-store retailer carries Poland Spring and Great Bear.
Paul Weiner, natural food buyer, attributes the strong performance, in part, to concerns about a threat to the nation's water supply.
"People are afraid of the possibility of terrorism," he said. He added that the natural fear of pollution has also helped sales.
To prevent out-of-stocks, Fairway warehouses certain brands so it has a backup in case consumer demand dramatically increases.
Not all retailers agree that terrorism has led to increased bottled water purchases. Blue Goose Super Markets, St. Charles, Ill., attributes the category's strong performance to the fact that consumers simply like the better taste of bottled water, said Dale Instefjord, general manager.
"Our municipal water supply is clean, but it doesn't taste great," he said.
Instefjord doesn't think that terrorism concerns have had much of an impact on sales. "My customers are not the type of people who are panicked by rumors about something that could possibly happen," he said. "They won't change their purchasing habits unless there's a tangible reason for them to."
Bottled water does well at Green Hills Farms, a single-store operator in Syracuse, N.Y., though sales are not as high as in some other regions, according to John Mahar, director of operations. Mahar attributes this to the good quality and taste of public water in the area.
"We're a little farther behind the curve from the rest of the category because the water quality here is so good," he said, adding that the water is derived from one of the purest sources in the nation.
Still, the category has shown impressive gains. In the last five years, sales have increased about 150%. Sales go up even more when the nation is put on heightened security alert.
Bottled water is currently "cramped for space" in 12 feet of Green Hills' 18,000-square-foot store. Because of this, the retailer plans to double or even triple the size of the section within the next six months, according to Mahar.
Green Hills has other plans for the category as well. To spur sales, the retailer is launching a private-label spring water under the Green Hills brand. The brand, which is expected to hit store shelves next month, will be available in 1 gallon and 16.9-ounce, sports-cap sizes. The 1-gallon will sell for 79 cents, and sports-cap, $3.99 for a 12-pack.
"We've seen a lot of demand for these products, based on movement of existing items," Mahar said.
Green Hills decided on the sports-cap packaging to accommodate the diverse uses of bottled water.
"People like the sports-cap bottles because they don't drink water only in their house. They bring it to picnics, athletics and to other events," he said.
The reason Green Hills chose spring water was to differentiate the label from the big-selling water brands like Aquafina and Dasani, both of which are filtered water.
"Our whole philosophy with private label is to differentiate our products from national brands," he said.