UK sales of smoothies grew by 17% in retail value to £69m in 2003, according to a review of the market out today.

At an average of £3.70 per litre, smoothies are one of the highest priced UK beverage categories, but this has been justified by their high quality, premium status.

"Smoothies are often consumed as a food replacement drink," said Gary Roethenbaugh, director of research at Zenith International, which produced the research. "Thus the exceptionally hot summer of 2003 had only a limited impact on smoothies.  Parched consumers tended not to choose smoothies for refreshment, preferring instead water or other soft drinks.  2003 was also a year of adjustment, as the smoothie market steadied itself following dramatic growth in its early adoption years."

Unlike most other drinks sectors, smoothies are led by a collection of small, specialist businesses with targeted, niche offerings. Key brand owners include PJ (Pete & Johnny), Innocent and thejuicecompany.  Larger organisations are more active as suppliers of retailer own-label products.  Major contract packers include Sunjuice, Orchard House, Johnson's, Princes Soft Drinks and Gerber Foods Soft Drinks. 

Roethenbaugh added: "Big companies are at their most efficient with long production runs, while smoothies require constant adaptation to fruit freshness and short lead times."

Fruit-only smoothies are the principal type, accounting for more than 80% of volume in 2003.  Dairy based smoothies and a new wave of functional 'super smoothies', from brand leaders PJ and Innocent, have made more recent gains, particularly in value terms.  Supermarkets are responsible for over 60% of volume distribution, while small outlets such as coffee shops and delicatessens offer a vital proving ground for new products.

As a market founded on the attractions of health and wellbeing, smoothies are well placed for future growth.  More than 20% of UK adults are considered obese and the UK government is stressing the importance of five fruit and vegetable servings per day.  Raising awareness of the health benefits of smoothies would not be inconsistent with the government's objectives.  Smoothies deliver a convenient means of sustaining fruit intake, grounded on quality and taste.  Zenith forecasts a market value of over £150 million by 2008.