National Press Club

Nestle executive forecasts growth in bottled water despite environmental concerns

April 4, 2013 | By Marie Wood |

The consumption of bottled water will overtake that of carbonated soft drinks in the next five or six years, according to Kim Jeffery, chairman of Nestle Waters of North America, at a National Press Club Newsmaker April 4.

“The ascendancy of a water-drinking generation is one of the biggest things to happen in this country in the last 50 years, beginning now, ”Jeffery said.

“Over 73 percent of America drinks bottled water.” Jeffery added, “while the percentage of Americans drinking soft drinks continues to decrease."

“Bottled water is the only packaged beverage which has negatively affected soft drink consumption in the last forty years. This is good for Americans because of the looming health crisis of obesity.”

Jeffery elaborated on the rise of obesity in America and its attendant health problems, including the fact that today, 65 percent of Americans are officially overweight or obese. A CDC study estimates one in every three children born after the year 2000 will be diagnosed with diabetes at some point in their lifetime.

Jeffery refused to favor bottled water or tap water: “Whether its bottled water or tap water, we believe drinking water is good,” Jeffery said.

As to charges regarding the negative impact of bottled water on the environment, Jeffery claimed, “Only two NGOs which are not solution-based organizations are the primary detractors of bottled water. They use hyperbole and numbers which lack context … and they won't engage us in ways to help us become better companies.”

Without context, Jeffrey claimed, numbers are meaningless. “We use the the equivalent of one million barrels of oil per year to make the packages for our products. The U.S. uses 20 million barrels of oil every single day, and 80 percent of it is used in our cars. Our use equals .01 percent of oil.”

“Nestle also emits 2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. But in the U.S. we use 7.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. So context again is important.”

“Four eight-ounce bottles of bottled water equal one Gatorade bottle”, Jeffery said, “but we don't hear about the impact of these other beverages, just bottled water.”

Jeffery addressed the recent controversy over the town of Concord, Mass, which banned the sale of water citing environmental concerns over plastic bottles: “There is a lot of noise of plastic waste but this is because more people are buying more bottled water but fewer carbonated soft drinks, which has a carbon footprint twice that of bottled water.”

In fact, bottled water has the lightest environmental footprint and the least amount of carbon of any packaged beverage in America, according to Jeffery. “Fifty percent of the materials Nestle uses in bottled water can be recycled. We can use the materials again if we can get them back,” he said. He conceded that “as a societal issue we should work as an industry to do better.”

Jeffery estimates about 90 college campuses have also banned bottle water. Even though many of those schools' students just go off campus for the bottled water, Jeffrey concedes that “We have to figure out how to be wise about the resources we have available.”

In his talk Jeffrey reminded his audience that bottled water protects people as a critical second source when tap water supplies are interrupted by natural disasters. When we see natural disasters we see FEMA bringing in cases of bottled water to people, he said. During the hurricane in Texas or Hurricane Sandy, Nestle has been one of the first responders for the last 20 years, according to Jeffrey.

Finally, from a business aspect Jeffrey believes the market will continue to grow, especially in the United States and Canada, and producers will have to work five to ten years out to look at spring sources and to match supply and demand.

Jeffrey has served as chairman of Nestle Waters North America for 20 years, the longest serving CEO of a beverage company in America. Nestle is the third largest non-alcoholic beverage company in North America.