A new 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.
"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.
But he added: "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."
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. This reflects 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.
So far protein-containing sports drinks are few and far between on the European beverage market although there is work underway by protein companies to develop ingredients suitable for this booming sector.
DSM, which has developed a finished product to showcase its new fragmented casein, is hoping that the Dutch Olympic team, currently trialling the drink, will confirm the protein's value to muscle recovery.
Quest International was one of the first to develop a protein-containing drink, called Hyprol, which is now marketed in 10 different countries by Extreme Drinks. Avril Twomey, marketing executive at dairy ingredients firm Glanbia, also believes that protein ingredients will drive "the next generation of sports drink", but until there is further innovation in ingredients and formulation, as well as clinical tests, sports drinks look set to follow a similar recipe.
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 the raised profile offered by the games may boost its share in 2004. Switzerland's Novartis has the fifth biggest share with its Isostar brand, which holds 6 per cent.
Germany remains 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. Such products are restricted by regulations governing some of the energy-boosting ingredients, also curbing the development of the wider energy drink sector.
For details of how to buy your copy of Zenith International's report, West Europe Sports Drinks 2004, click here.