A recent report from drinks consultancy Zenith International reveals that western Europe's sports drink market sprinted past the €1,000 million barrier in 2003, with volumes up 27 per cent to 477 million litres - although the long term suggestion is that the development of the sports drink market is more likely to be a long-distance race rather than a sprint.
"More athletes are using sports drinks to improve their performance and the Olympics should help ensure double figure growth again in 2004," commented Zenith's research director Gary Roethenbaugh, who predicted further strong growth over the next five years with total west European sports drinks consumption expected to top 750 million litres by 2008.
"Greater product choice together with increasing consumer health awareness bode well for the future, but smaller brands risk being marginalised unless they focus on effectively communicating their benefits," he said.
Germany is the leading national market for sports drinks with a 26 per cent volume share, followed by Italy on 19 per cent and the United Kingdom on 15 per cent. Spain has around 11 per cent, while the Netherlands have 9 per cent of the market - as well as the highest consumption per person (2.8 litres, over twice the European average).
Ironically, with 0.4 litres per capita, Olympic host Greece lags well behind the overall average of 1.2 litres, beating only France and Portugal, where consumption is a mere 0.2 litres per capita, reflecting the overall development of the functional drinks sector in these markets, in part restricted by regulations governing product ingredients which have also curbed the development of the wider energy drink sector.
Like all soft drink success stories, brands have played a major part in the development of the sports drink market. PepsiCo's Gatorade has long been the biggest player in western Europe with 15 per cent of total volume, but Coca-Cola's Powerade is rapidly catching up, taking a 12 per cent share in 2003 just ahead of perennial British favourite Lucozade from GlaxoSmithKline, which also had 12 per cent.
Aquarius, another Coca-Cola brand and the Official Sports Drink of the Olympic Games, has around 8 per cent - though it will hope that the raised profile offered by the games will boost its share in 2004. Swiss group Novartis is currently looking for a buyer for its Isostar brand - the fifth biggest with a 6 per cent share and this could provide an opportunity for an ambitious company to gain a solid foothold in the fast-growing market. Nestlé is one company thought to be interested in the brand.
According to the Zenith report, hypotonic sports drinks - which replace lost fluids without a carbohydrate boost - have gained most momentum in the past two years, more than doubling their share to 20 per cent, reflecting a trend towards less calorific, low carbohydrate products, as well as the growing appeal of sports drinks for female consumers and the rising number of people seeing sport as a means to lose weight.
But these 'light' variants still have a lot of ground to make up on the leaders - isotonic drinks (which replenish fluids and provide carbohydrates) account for a whopping 73 per cent of the market, while hypertonic drinks (which provide additional carbohydrate intake after exercise to top up muscle glycogen stores) took up the remaining 7 per cent.
For details of how to buy your copy of Zenith International's report, West Europe Sports Drinks 2004, click here.