West Virginia’s spring waters have a long history, including the regular patronage of George Washington at Berkeley Springs. Mineral water was bottled at West Virginia springs in the 19th and early 20th centuries, including Capon Springs, Berkeley Springs, and Pence Springs. The bottled water industry was revived on a large scale in the late 20th century, with the national boom in bottled-water sales. Today West Virginia producers bottle both spring water and well water, and in one case even the recaptured water from the sap of sugar maple trees.
Our state’s mineral springs and warm springs were originally valued for their reported health benefits, later becoming social gathering places. Resorts were developed at springs from the Eastern Panhandle to the southeastern region of the state. Drinking was often secondary to bathing in the spring waters, although both were believed therapeutic for a variety of medical conditions. Some springs were valued for their sulfur content, which makes their water unpalatable by today’s standards.
In recent times, water from certain springs has been bottled and sold as a refreshing beverage. Quibell-brand water was bottled from the water of Sweet Springs beginning in 1987. The brand helped to establish the reputation of West Virginia waters by competing with Perrier and the finest sparkling waters of the world. West Virginia waters frequently win the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting event, which regularly draws entries from Europe and elsewhere.
The bottled-water market is highly competitive, particularly in the lucrative small bottle category. Commercial giants dominate retail shelf space for single-serving bottles, especially Dasani, a Coca-Cola product, and Pepsi’s Aquafina. Local bottlers fare better in the market for larger sizes. Sales of five-gallon containers for home and office delivery have grown, as have sales of smaller shelf units at retail outlets, usually gallon bottles. Bulk water sales to large bottlers or grocery chains that bottle their own brands have likewise grown, in some cases exceeding the amount that the water producers themselves bottle. Long-established companies such as Tyler Mountain Water, which operates in West Virginia and Pennsylvania and has been a major supplier in the office-delivery market since the 1930s, have expanded their reach into the bottled-water market. Berkeley Club Beverages, also a major competitor, was established in 1934.
According to the state Bureau of Employment Programs there were 12 bottled water plants in West Virginia in 2010. They produced nearly 13 million gallons of bottled water. Tyler Mountain Water and the West Virginia Spring Water Company of Berkeley Springs together produce more than half the state total. A third large operator, the Sweet Springs Valley Water Company, produces 2.5 million gallons yearly. Berkeley Club Beverages produces an additional 1.6 million gallons, with all the other companies dividing the remaining one-tenth of the total state production among themselves.