British consumers increasingly support the idea of buying drinking water in aluminium cans for on-the-go purchases, a new survey has revealed.

The YouGov poll, commissioned by Ball Corporation, questioned British consumer attitudes to on-the-go water purchases and found there is a growing thirst for retailers, and food and beverage outlets to sell water in cans.

The survey indicates that the Covid-19 outbreak is affecting consumer expectations and consumption patterns, with 79% of the 2,000+ UK adults polled agreeing that “As businesses return to usual, this is a valuable opportunity for retailers and brands to reconsider their approach to packaging”. And 75% indicate that “Since the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, (they) now feel that it is more important that retailers and brands consider the environment”.

Higher levels of home-working, fewer UK commuters, and restrictions on events will negatively impact domestic sales of on-the-go water. But when current work and leisure habits stabilise, the sustainability of consumer choices has an opportunity to reshape what was a £3bn market in 2019[4].

Plastic bottles are currently by far the most commonly purchased on-the-go water package in the UK: Three-quarters (73%) of the UK adults surveyed have purchased water in a plastic bottle, compared to only 8% for aluminium cans; for regular purchasers of on-the-go water, 90% said they regularly bought water in a plastic bottle. The ready availability of water in plastic bottles (38%) and a lack of packaging alternatives (42%) were cited as the most popular reasons for these purchasing decisions.

The study indicates that UK consumers would be much more willing to purchase water in can when supplied with the correct facts about aluminium recyclability and recycling rates. Just over half of adults (53%) are aware that aluminium is infinitely recyclable, whereas just less than half (47%) are aware that aluminium cans are the most widely recycled type of drinks container.55% of adults said they would be more likely to buy water in a can if they knew that the can is infinitely recyclable.

The YouGov data indicates that water in cans has not yet been widely available and so relatively few consumers have encountered such products. The polls results shows that younger consumers would be more willing to buy water in cans, with 25-34-year olds (51%) the most likely age group to do so, compared to 21% of those aged over 55.

Ana Neale, Director, Marketing and Strategic Planning, Ball Corporation, said: “The results of this survey indicate that once there is awareness of recyclability and availability, younger age groups, especially, will choose packaged water in cans. Just as we’ve seen in other beverages, we expect more and more brands to offer on-the-go water of all types in cans, which is good news for new and existing entrants to the category, and for the development of a truly circular economy.”

Aluminium packaging has emerged as a major competitor to the most common water packaging substrates. New brands across a range of water categories are embracing the sustainability advantages of the aluminium can, with an increasing number of brands in water.

CanO Water, who launched in 2015 and sold over 10 million of their canned waters in 2019, has achieved listings in national accounts such as Tesco, Morrisons, WHSmith, Compass & Sodexo. Other notable UK canned water brands include Llanllyr SOURCE, and new entrant The Whent.

Ariel Booker, Co-Founder, CanO Water commented: “It’s really exciting for us to see an increase in consumer awareness around the recyclability benefits of aluminium cans. Disruptive brands like CanO Water have worked hard to educate our audience and in times like these we all need to be aware of the small changes we can make to positively impact our planet. We encourage more brands and consumers to make the switch!”

John Wallington, Director, Llanllyr SOURCE commented: “We’re extremely proud of our premium Welsh spring water and have always taken responsibility to the natural environment very seriously. Aluminium cans enable us to offer our customers a refined drinking experience, safe in the knowledge that they can drop empties into a recycling bin and be back on the shelf in as little as 60 days.”

Martin Clark, Co-Founder, The Whent commented: "Launching our new canned water brand in aluminium was the obvious choice for us. People understand the sustainable and environmental benefits of aluminium, over other materials, and know that it will actually be recycled once collected. We’re also working on resealable aluminium options."

Hannes Tack, Chief Executive, Rhodius, a leading European co-packer (filler) commented: “Filling water is complex, with very low tolerances but once established, cans are rapidly and efficiently filled. From the interest we’ve had from customers around Europe, we’re confident that this is a category that will only get stronger.”