Bottled water suppliers claim a sales slump last year was caused by a poor summer and was not a result of repeated attacks on the category by the green lobby.
Bottled water sales fell 4.5% to £291.3m in the year to 4 November 2007 [TNS Worldpanel].
The category has come under intensified scrutiny from environmentalists, who claim bottled water is responsible for generating huge amounts of packaging waste and racking up millions of food miles.
Environmental campaign group Sustain recently told consumers they should view bottled water in the same dim light as plastic bags and drink tap water from reusable containers when they were out. The government has even waded into the debate with Defra minister Phil Woolas telling BBC's Panorama last month that bottled water was "daft" and bordering on "morally unacceptable".
Those claims drew a furious response from the industry, which this week insisted sales fell last year only because of bad summer weather.
Danone Waters, the producer of top-selling brands Volvic and Evian, said the category grew 1.9% last year when May to July were taken out of the equation. "Bottled water is much more seasonally reliant than other soft drinks and the bad summer in 2007 had a severe impact," said Steve Flanagan, category strategy manager at Danone Waters.
A spokesman for the Bottled Water Information Office said: "More people than ever are buying bottled water."
Most plastic bottles used by the industry were now 100%-recyclable, said Rebecca White, head of marketing at Nestlé Waters. "Bottled water is one of the best packaged beverages, both in terms of environmental impact and health."
Still water sales fell 3.7% to £134.9m over the past year, with carbonated water up 2.9% to £33.1m. Flavoured water sales fell 7.2% to £123.2m.