LONDON: If bottled water sales are the ultimate barometer of economic health, then Britain appears to be on the brink of recovery, says a Mintel report published today.

After more than two years of declining sales, the market for both sparkling and still waters is beginning to climb again and by 2014 should be back to pre-recession levels, the report suggests.

Between 1997 and 2007, the industry saw sales double to 2.5 billion litres as consumers turned away from the tap and sought the superior taste and sophistication of bottled varieties.

As the ultimate discretionary purchase though, bottled water has been hit hard by the dip in consumer confidence; consumption levels collapsing by as much as 11% between 2006 and 2008.

Despite lingering consumer resistance, the effects of the recession and, arguably, two consecutive bad summers though, that decline has now slowed to just one per cent, according to the report.

"Consumer confidenmce is inextricably linked with bottled water consumption and when the decline in confidence began in the latter half of 2007, bottled water became one of the easiest products for cautious consumers to sacrifice," says Jonny Forsyth, drinks analyst with Mintel.

While tap water - 250 times cheaper than bottled -seemed a more sensible option when the economy was in very bad shape, he believes that consumers "have now started to loosen their purse strings and bottled water has been one of the beneficiaries."

Some 35% of British consumers believe that bottled water tastes better than tap, but only one in 10 say it represents value for money.

Around a third think it is "a bit of a con" and four in 10 say it is no healthier than tap water.

Data sourced from Mintel; additional content by WARC staff