The UK bottled water market is almost back to its 2006 peak and experts predict 2010 consumption will be almost 60% higher than a decade ago.

Food and drink industry consultants Zenith International forecast a second consecutive year of UK retail bottled water sales growth this year, estimating the market would grow 3%-5% a year in the next few years, bringing it back to its 2006 peak of 1,845 million litres.

Market volumes declined 8% over the course of 2007 and 2008 following two consecutive poor summers and heightened environmental concerns but a renewed focus on health and environmental progress had marked a recovery in the category, said Zenith International chairman Richard Hall.

"Bottled water has a lower environmental impact than any other beverage on shelves. Because the industry is now leading the way in lightweighting its bottles, recycling schemes, new packaging materials, water conservation and CSR, I believe the environmental debate will in time move on to other issues."

A reduction in consumer prices in recent years had also benefited the category, he noted, with the supermarket and c-store average falling from 37p per litre to 33p. "We believe the increase in VAT this year will have been more or less offset by extra promotional activity," he said. "We turned a corner last year and we are maintaining that growth," added the Natural Hydration Council.