It ends up that a growing number of Americans are saying neither. And that means bottled water is the big winner as people continue their years-long retreat from carbonated soft drinks.

New details released by Beverage Marketing Corp. at The Packaging Conference in Henderson show that carbonated soft drinks clung on to a slight edge over bottled water last year, but its lead continues to fizzle.

Gary Hemphill, managing director and chief operating officer of research at BMC, said bottled water consumption grew by 7.6% last year while carbonated soda fell by 1.1%.

Growth in overall plastic bottled water sales means also growth in single-serve bottled water in PET containers as that format accounts for about two-thirds of all bottled water sales.

Hemphill expects plastic bottled water will overtake carbonated soft drinks in US consumption either late this year or early next year.

“Probably not surprising, carbonated soft drinks continue to be weak. The marketplace continued to decline in 2015, actually the 11th consecutive year of declines. It’s not just a fad with the category,” Hemphill said. “On the flip side … bottled water has continued its growth, continued to be really a growth juggernaut.

“Actually accelerated growth for the last two years, which is pretty remarkable for a category its size,” he said.

Plastic bottled water posted a compound annual growth rate of 4.5% from 2004 to 2014, and carbonated soft drinks had a CAGR of -1.9% during that same period.

While carbonated soft drinks fell for the 11th straight year, the level of decline slowed both in 2015 and 2014 compared to previous years, Hemphill said.

On the flip side, last year’s 7.6% increase for bottled water is on top of a 7.3% gain in 2014. “Which is really remarkable,” Hemphill said.

Aggressive pricing and private label brands have helped the single-serve PET bottled water market grow in recent years, allowing for an 8.5% increase in that segment of the overall bottled water market. That’s even higher than the 8.3% jump in 2014, Hemphill said. Single serve PET bottles accounted for 67.1% of the market last year.

Stable or declining PET resin prices, lower fuel costs for transportation and continued light weighting of containers are helping bottlers be aggressive in their pricing, Hemphill said. High-speed bottling lines, which can produce 15 to 18 million cases a year per line, also are wringing out costs.

Private label brands accounted for 46.6% of the PET water market last year, compared to 28.4% in 2010, he reported.

“When you compare carbonated soft drinks to bottled water, bottled water prices have basically have come down over the years. While soft drink pricing, its not really not jumped a significant amount, but it’s increased as prices have gone up on input costs,” Hemphill said. “Bottled water is healthier and it becomes a better value.”

Plastic continues to take share from other materials in beverage packaging and accounted for 38.3% of the total in 2014, up from 34.6% in 2009, Hemphill said.

The CAGR for plastic beverage packaging between those years is 3.9%, Cans, paper, aseptic and even pouches all saw their share of the market fall during that time, he said.

Projections are that bottled water will grow by another 5.5% to 6.5% this year while carbonated soft drinks will fall by 0.7% to 1.2%.

“The inevitable is going to happen. Probably at the end of this year or the beginning of 2017. What we are going to see is bottled water supplant carbonated soft drinks as the No. 1 category in the United States, which is a fairly remarkable feat if you think about it,” Hemphill said.

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