New data projects bottled water will be the number one packaged drink by 2016, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC). Last year, the bottled water segment grew 4.7 percent and will again post significant increases in both sales and consumption this year.

BMC Managing Director of Research Gary Hemphill presented the preliminary data on this market growth at the International Bottled Water Association’s annual business conference in Dallas.

“While other beverages struggle to gain or maintain market share, bottled water is expected to have a 7.4 percent increase in 2014—that equates to 10.9 billion gallons,” said Hemphill. “Every segment of the bottled water industry is growing, and we consider bottled water to be the most successful mass-market beverage category in the US,” he added. “In fact, single-serve PET plastic bottled water outperformed all other beverage categories, posting an increase of 8.4 percent.” BMC says sales of bottled water in 2014 are expected to grow to $13 billion, up 6.1 percent from 2013.

Consumers are trending toward healthier, conveniently bottled beverages, and BMC says the bottled water market has grown from a 14.4 percent share of the overall beverage market in 2009 to 17.8 percent in 2014. Carbonated soft drinks rank number one at 20.9 percent, though BMC projects bottled water will overtake the top spot by 2016.

“On the retail shelf, bottled water already outsells soft drinks in 17 major cities, including New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Houston, Miami and Washington, DC. As overall soft drink consumption continues to decline, BMC projects more cities will join that list,” says Chris Hogan, IBWA vice president of communications.

According to BMC, bottled water has been on a long-term upward trajectory. Between 1976 and 2013, bottled water grew at a compounded annual growth rate of 9.5 percent, which outdistanced every other beverage category. On a per capita basis, every American drank 1.6 gallons of bottled water in 1976. In 2014, the amount is projected to reach a record 34.2 gallons.

“People choose bottled water for a variety of reasons,” says Hogan. “Many consumers are making healthier choices for themselves and their families, and they know that safe, convenient, refreshing bottled water has zero calories and is the healthiest option on the shelf. They also appreciate the reliable, consistent quality of bottled water.”

Bottled water is regulated by FDA as a packaged food product. By federal law, the FDA regulations governing the safety and quality of bottled water must be at least as stringent as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for tap water.