But bottled water is washing away the palate trained to drain a bubbly soda. By the end of this decade, if not sooner, sales of bottled water are expected to surpass those of carbonated soft drinks, according to Michael C. Bellas, chief executive of the Beverage Marketing Corporation.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Mr. Bellas, who has watched water’s rise in the industry since the 1980s.
Sales of water in standard lightweight plastic bottles grew at a rate of more than 20 percent every quarter from 1993 to 2005, he said. The growth has continued since, but now it has settled into percentages within the high single digits.
If the estimated drinking of water from the household tap is included, water consumption began exceeding that of soda in the mid-2000s.
That significant shift has posed a tough challenge for the Coca-Cola Company and rival PepsiCo in recent years. While both companies sell bottled water lines, Dasani for Coke and Aquafina for Pepsi, they have had trouble establishing dominance in the more profitable business of so-called enhanced waters — including flavored and carbonated waters and those with added vitamins and minerals — where a hoard of new beverage companies like TalkingRain, Hint water and Fruit2O are giving them a run for the money.
“Given where pricing has gone, I would assume that on the average 24 pack of bottled water, Coke and Pepsi are selling at break-even at best,” said John Faucher, who tracks the beverage and household products businesses at JPMorgan Chase. “The one thing keeping them in plain, old bottled water is that both have a very large and highly profitable single-serve business in it.”