The global carbonates market is expected to expand only slightly in 2003 but by a further 7% by 2006, according to research out yesterday.

A report from drinks analyst Canadean confirms that North America and Central/South America remain the largest and second largest consumers of carbonates. However, although they may be close geographically, the report highlights very noticeable variations in the respective growth rates, penetration of low calorie drinks, type and size of packaging and use of distribution channel.

"Accounting for a combined 56% of total world consumption, the Americas are vital to the global carbonates industry. North America is totally dominated by the USA which is easily the largest single market, exceeding its nearest international rival by more than 250%," said Canadean.

Consumption in the mature US is actually expected to dip slightly in 2003, fuelled by a continued decline in the major cola and lemon-lime categories. Increasing concerns over obesity and the associated health implications have helped low calorie alternatives grow rapidly across all flavours. Indeed, many new product launches are now quickly followed by a 'diet' version. North America is also unique in being the only region where cans are the most popular form of packaging for carbonates.

Central/South America, Canadean predicts looks like increasing at three times the rate of the US, in the short term. However, Canadean warns that there are definite signs that the market may be approaching maturity.

Elsewhere, Eastern Europe is now firmly established as the world's most dynamic region, growing by almost 45% in the last six years. This is due in no small part to the popularity of affordable local flavours which have helped the "Other" segment achieve a share of throat that is some 50% higher than the global average. Conversely, the penetration of low calorie carbonates is very poor as consumers appear to be far more motivated by price than health.
 
Western Europe remains the third largest region and is predicted to grow by around 1% per annum over the next three years. Surprisingly, per capita consumption in Ireland and Norway places both countries in the international top ten.