Dick Groves
Editor, Cheese Reporter


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Bottled Water And Other Beverages Are Clobbering Milk

Americans are now drinking more bottled water than any other packaged beverage, outselling carbonated soft drinks, by volume, for the first time, according to the International Bottled Water Association and the Beverage Marketing Corporation.

So if bottled water is number one and carbonated soft drinks are number two when it comes to packaged beverages, where does that leave good old milk?
According to preliminary figures from BMC, in fiscal 2016, on a volume basis, milk actually ranked fourth, behind not only bottled water and carbonated soft drinks but also behind coffee.

If that’s not depressing enough, BMC’s volume figures for the past seven years also show that, as most people in the dairy industry already know, milk sales are continuing to decline steadily and frustratingly. More specifically, milk sales have declined from about 6.3 billion gallons back in fiscal 2010 to 5.7 billion gallons in fiscal 2016.

To put that trend in some perspective, BMC’s figures indicate that bottled water sales have increased from about 8.8 billion gallons in fiscal 2010 to 12.8 billion gallons in fiscal 2016. Carbonated soft drinks are trending the same as milk: down, from 13.8 billion gallons in fiscal 2010 to 12.4 billion gallons in fiscal 2016.

These three beverage categories couldn’t be more different. Bottled water is basically nothing: it has no calories, nor does it contain any vitamins, minerals or nutrients. All it can possibly do is quench your thirst and keep you hydrated.

Meanwhile, carbonated soft drinks face a mighty tough market these days. In a nutshell, carbonated soft drinks, because of their calorie content (at least the non-diet varieties), are being blamed, at least in part, for the obesity crisis, among other ills. It isn’t easy selling empty calories these days.

Which brings us back to the announcement by the IBWA and BMC, which repeatedly refers to bottled water as “healthy.” This got us thinking: How healthy is bottled water, really?

Well, compared to the beverage it just knocked from the top spot — carbonated soft drinks — bottled water is pretty healthy. Carbonated soft drinks, after all, contain plenty of sugar and calories but zero nutrition. They are pretty much the exact opposite of a nutrient-dense food.

But is a beverage that contains absolutely no calories — and absolutely no vitamins, minerals or other nutrients — really healthy? Obviously, that depends in part on how you define “healthy,” but when comparing bottled water to milk, well, one is healthy by pretty much any definition and the other is healthy by only the narrowest of definitions (that is, it’s “healthy” because it doesn’t contain any empty calories).

In at least some ways, milk should be a beverage marketer’s dream come true. It is truly a nutrient-dense food; that is, it provides plenty of essential vitamins and minerals, not to mention plenty of high-quality protein.

More specifically, an eight-ounce glass of milk provides, among other things, around 25 percent of the Daily Value of riboflavin, 22 percent of the DV for phosphorus, 10 percent of the DV for potassium, 30 percent of the DV for calcium, 7 percent of the DV for magnesium, 10 percent of the DV for zinc, 10 percent of the DV for vitamin A, 20 percent of the DV for vitamin B12, and 30 percent of the DV for vitamin D. And lots of protein.

By contrast, the increasingly popular bottled water provides nothing but zeros: no protein, no vitamins and no minerals. For that contribution to the US diet, bottled water is being rewarded with astonishingly consistent growth.

How consistent? According to Michael C. Bellas, BMC’s chairman and CEO, with the exception of two “relatively small declines” in 2008 and 2009 (“when most beverage categories declined”) bottled water volume “grew every year from 1977 to 2016. This period included 17 double-digit annual volume growth spurts. Since resuming growth in 2010, bottled water volume has consistently enlarged at solid single-digit percentage rates.”

As depressing as it is to see bottled water thriving while milk continues to struggle, BMC’s statistics aren’t all negative from a dairy industry perspective. For example, coffee volume surpassed milk volume a few years ago, but at least the coffee business is a very large consumer of milk.

There are at least two relatively easy ways to verify this. First, stop at Starbucks (or almost any other coffee purveyor) and check out all the milk-containing drinks on the menu, from the “Flat White” (espresso and steamed whole milk) to the “Latte Macchiato” (espresso and lightly aerated milk).

Second, check out the coffee (caffeine?) aisle(s) at your local supermarket or convenience store and you’ll notice a growing array of milk-based coffee beverages, including some carrying the aforementioned Starbucks brand.

And how about sports drinks? It’s hard to imaging these drinks not containing at least some form of dairy protein, be it in the form of whey protein, milk protein, casein or some combination thereof. BMC’s figures show that sports drink volume has risen from about 1.2 billion gallons back in fiscal 2010 to about 1.6 billion gallons in fiscal 2016.

The growth of bottled water serves as yet another reminder that the fluid milk business has gotten more and more competitive in recent decades. Yes, bottled water will always have some advantages over milk, including the fact that you can leave it in your car for days or weeks and it never goes bad.

But bottled water will always be a “nothing” beverage, because it contributes nothing nutritionally. Milk crushes bottled water nutritionally, if not in sales. DG

Cheese Reporter welcomes letters to the editor. Comments should be sent to: Dick Groves by Fax at (608) 246-8431; or e-mail your comments to
dgroves @cheesereporter.com.


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