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Hydration in Britain: 1952 to 2022

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, has reigned for longer than any other British monarch in history. She’s also the world’s oldest and longest-reigning current monarch and the longest-serving current head of state. Approximately 85% of people living in Britain today were born during her reign.

During Queen Elizabeth’s 70 years (and counting …) on the throne, the world has seen some big changes. Technological progress has supported space travel, medical advancement, and the first steps towards environmental repair. Arguably the greatest phenomenon of Queen Elizabeth’s reign is the Internet, which has allowed the world’s population to share knowledge, experiences, and ideas.

The lives of the British public have changed drastically over the past 70 years, in areas ranging from education, travel, and work, to the way we speak, dress, and eat.

In post-war Britain, diet was shaped by availability, affordability, and nutritional economy. In post-millennium Britain – a time when anatomical knowledge is widespread, and affordable food is plentiful – diet is heavily influenced by science and philosophy. Today, personal health and environmental sustainability are two important metrics when it comes to choosing food and drink.

So, how has the way we stay hydrated in the UK changed during Queen Elizabeth’s 70-year reign?

Aqua Libra Queen Jubilee celebrations

The 1950s: End of tea rationing and a royal warrant for Robinson’s fruit squash

Sunday 5th October 1952 saw the end of tea rationing in the UK.

By the early 19th century, tea had become the most popular drink in Britain among people of all ages and all classes. When tea first made an appearance in England in the 17th century, the drink was expensive and therefore exclusively available to the very rich. But in the 18th century, the British East India Company began trading directly with China, and as a result of plentiful supply, the retail price of tea dropped. By the 19th century, this leafy product of Asia had established itself as a British institution.


Tea Lady World War 2

In recognition of the important role tea would play in boosting troop morale during World War II, the government bought up all the available black tea in Europe. Made with sterilised (boiled) water, tea was a safe way to keep the troops hydrated, and its strong flavour disguised the unpleasant taste of water that had been transported in old oil cans. For the soldiers, a mug of tea brought the comfort and safety of home that little bit closer.

However, there was a lot less tea available during the war, and it had to rationed. For the people who lived in the 1940s and early ’50s, those 12 years of tea rationing (which began in July 1940) must have seemed a very long time.

Besides tea, Britons were drinking milk (approximately 350 kg per person per year) and water. In 1950, around 11% of children would sometimes have a flavoured drink, such as squash or a carbonated drink – with Robinsons Squash proving popular enough for the Queen to award it a Royal Warrant in 1955.

The 1970s: A packaging revolution

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), invented by British chemists John Whinfield and James Dickson, was first used in textile applications. The new material was commercialised in the 1940s as Terylene by Whinfield and Dickson’s employer, Calico Printers’ Association.

In 1973, roughly 30 years after polyester (as polyethylene terephthalate is known in the context of textiles) was first synthesised in the UK, the PET bottle was invented by an American mechanical engineer named Nathaniel Wyeth. This was the first plastic that could withstand the pressure of carbonation. As a cheaper alternative to glass, PET bottles meant that carbonated drinks were affordable to a wider market. In the 1970s, we began to splash out on fizzy drinks.


Vintage 7UP Poster

Sweet, cold drinks – mainly fruit squash – took the place of tea in children’s diets.

With the wide range of flavoured drinks available, Britons were drinking less milk. In 1970, average milk consumption was 250 kg per person.


The 1990s and 2000s: Focus on health

In the 1950s, about 11% of children were drinking fruit squashes and fizzy pop. By the 1990s, this figure had risen to 90%.

Between 1980 and the early 1990s, the prevalence of obesity doubled. Studies were carried out, mid-decade, linking sugary drinks with weight gain.

At the turn of the millennium, many Britons were opting for healthier drinks. More people were choosing low-calorie carbonated drinks, and consumption of herbal teas (tisanes) increased by 50% from 1997 to 2002.



What are Britons drinking today?


We’re drinking water

Water is the very best thing for staying hydrated and healthy. In the past 12 years, the demand for bottled water has grown. In 2013, 2,066 million litres of packaged water was sold in the UK. Seven years on, in 2020, the figure stood at 2,542 million litres. That’s an increase of 23%.

Aqua Libra Water

The amount of PET being produced for bottled water poses a real threat to the environment, in terms of direct harm to wildlife and to the generation of greenhouse gases, which are steadily causing the Earth’s temperature to rise.


We’re drinking low-sugar drinks

In 2020, low-calorie drinks accounted for 60% of the entire soft drinks market – a 36% increase since 2013, when 44% of the soft drinks market consisted of low-calorie products.


We’re still drinking plenty of tea

With all the choice available today, some might be surprised to learn that 72% of Britons still drink tea every day. Concern for the environment and the welfare of workers is reflected in the fact that 62% of tea drinkers in the UK buy tea that’s certified by an ethical trading body.


And we’re drinking milk … but not just from the dairy

Britain’s dairy milk consumption is now half what it was in 1974. A move towards plant-based ‘milk’ by 32% of the UK population has been driven by several factors, including digestive intolerance, general health, and environmental sustainability. The three most popular plant milks are: almond, oat, and soy.


A sustainable way to stay hydrated

Aqua Libra Co is committed to helping businesses provide employees and customers with pure chilled, boiling, and sparkling water. Our water is on tap, helping reduce the demand for single-use plastic.

Have a look at Aqua Libra Co water dispensers for:


If you’d like to talk to us about helping employees stay hydrated and productive at work, give us a call on 0800 080 6696 or email We look forward to talking to you.

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