Having arguably failed to reach their potential in the US, following a phenomenal start in California, the "smoothie" has become a major success story in the UK soft drinks market. So much so, according to Soft Drinks International, that smoothie brands are now setting their sights on Europe and beyond.

Despite having begun life as a California phenomenon which gradually spread across the States, smoothies have, according to Beverage Marketing, never attained the degree of popularity elsewhere in the US that they enjoyed in the Golden State. Today in the US, on-shelf smoothies are a mere US$25m segment within the soft drinks industry.

On the other side of the Atlantic, however, the drinks are becoming a UK success story. Growth has been fuelled by product integrity, health and lifestyle issues. The concept of a 100% fruit juice beverage mix which is good for you, tastes good and will keep you nourished on the go, has been comprehensively embraced, in the main, by young professionals. It's the perfect drink to fuel the body first thing in the morning as you go to work, refresh during the lunch break and keep you going from afternoon into evening.

The recent Britvic Soft Drinks Category Report states that smoothies in the UK gained 11% in value in 2004, albeit with a 1% value share of the soft drinks market. Performance this year looks set to continue this upward trajectory.

Growth is being driven by innocent. Last year the company's turnover was £16.7m and this year innocent confidently states that it is going to break the £30m barrier. According to the company, smoothies are continuing to grow faster than chilled juice at 43% versus 10% year-on-year, whilst innocent itself is growing at more than 300% year-on-year. AC Nielsen data shows the brand has a 58% value market share and has now become the No 2 brand in chilled juice in general with 6%.

With such an established presence in the UK, innocent is now looking at expanding overseas. The drinks have been on sale in Ireland for over four years and innocent is the number one smoothie brand there. Inroads are now being made in mainland Europe with the appointment of a new marketing manager in Belgium, Inge Laureyns.

But, says innocent, it is "taking it slowly". That means "local people, POS, PR agencies, distributors, sampling and labels." Belgium and the Netherlands have their own Benelux labels with translations of innocent copy as well as the ingredients. Next up is Scandinavia and Spain. However, the company points out that it is still very much a UK business with a turnover split of 10% Europe and 90% UK.

Product development is ongoing. The latest, introduced in September and available until December, is a second 'guest' smoothie: innocent strawberry, raspberry & rhubarb. Expect more experimental use of vegetables.

There's equally upbeat news from The Big J, manufacturer of smoothiepack and Smoothie Smile. The company has just added Malta to its list of overseas markets, bringing global coverage to 18 countries across three continents. At the same time, the raspberry and banana smoothiepack is now being offered as part of the Virgin Premium Breakfast train menu and Smoothie Smile now has listings in Londis local stores.

Earlier this year, the company responsible for introducing smoothies to the UK, PJ, was acquired by PepsiCo. With a 33% market share, PJ joins Pepsi's other fruit juice brands Copella and Tropicana. At the time of the acquisition, Pepsi said it would maintain the company's current structure and its Newark factory and that "the acquisition would complement its beverage portfolio and offer opportunities in an area that has huge growth potential."

Meanwhile, one young innovative company, in true entrepreneurial smoothie style, has taken smoothies back to their US roots and opened a smoothie-fusion bar in Leeds. It has already been named one of the UK's top 20 new businesses in the HSBC Start-Up Star awards.

Lucy Eatough and Claire Kok started The Smoothie Company in September last year after spotting a gap in the market. The inspiration for their new venture came from their experience of smoothie bars in Australia, where they travelled together in 2000. Both returned to complete degrees at Leeds University but three years later they were even more determined to fulfil their dream and set up their own business.

Having researched the market carefully, the two young entrepreneurs formulated a business plan, secured a small business loan from HSBC and eventually found suitable premises for their first bar. The Smoothie Company opened its doors on 13 September 2004 and now has three full time staff and a further eight part-timers. Aimed initially at the student market, the smoothie concept has caught on with local businesses as well. Now the company regularly caters for corporate lunches and outdoor events and plans are under way to expand this side of the business to compensate for student holiday periods.

In the Middle East, a similar concept to a smoothie bar has been opened, but this time with the backing of ETA Star East, part of the powerful Emirates Trading Agency-Associated Constructions and Investments Group known as ETA-ASCON. Called Grenadine, the juice and smoothie bar is located in the Karama market in Dubai. It offers a range of 'yoghurt smoothies', 'pure smoothies', 'smoothies plus', fresh fruit juice and milk shakes. All the beverages are sugar-free and said to be made of the "freshest ingredients". Some of the more innovative flavours go by such names as Peach Papaya, Slim Gym, Pretty Woman, Flu Fighter and Pain Drain.

Fazle Naqvi, general manager of Star East LLC, said: "What we are offering at Grenadine is taste, convenience and health. The main aspect driving the popularity of juices and smoothies is that they are a healthy meal replacement. The whole concept of juice and smoothie bars is fast gaining popularity in this region."

Source: Soft Drinks International

For further information on Soft Drinks International, go to www.softdrinksjournal.com