Growth in the sales of soft drinks in West Europe has evened out at about 2% a year for the near future according to a report from beverage industry analyst Canadean. And it concludes that packaged water is, and will continue to be, the main driver of growth in the region. In 2003 it is expected to account for more than half of the incremental volume increase.

Of West Europe's five largest markets France, Germany and Italy are expected to grow at around 2% during the year ahead while Spain and the UK will buck the trend with above average increases. All however demonstrate the importance of the packaged water sector.

In Germany, West Europe's major soft drinks market, growth in packaged water sales will underpin almost half of this year's rise in overall soft drinks volume. In the second largest sector, carbonates, "other fruit flavours" and new products from Schorle are expected to scoop most of the benefits, while sports and energy drinks will rise a massive 17%, in spite of already outselling their French equivalents 45 times over. Although Italy has long been Europe's largest packaged water market, the sector is expected to contribute almost three quarters of the country's soft drinks incremental volume for this year, while a similar level of growth will be experienced in France fed by an ongoing consumer demand for low priced eau de scource products.

Despite poor overall economic performance, Spain is forecast to increase soft drinks sales volumes by an above average 2.6% - almost two thirds of which will be underpinned by packaged water. A spectacular last quarter rise of almost one third in sports and energy drinks volumes still only managed to put sector volume just above the 100 million-litre mark.

The largest growth rate among the major markets is, however, predicted for the UK. Here, as the soft drink's market matures and evidence of down pricing by retailers accumulates, a rise of three per cent is expected, fed by creditable increases in both packaged water and sports and energy drinks.

In a wide ranging review Canadean provides detailed data on all soft drinks consumption from 1997- 2003 in 16 national markets. Individual country profiles look at new products and retail price movements as well as rounding up the news of developments in production, packaging and distribution.

The report is conceived as an essential tool for business planning, indicating opportunities and risks arising from particular markets. Spain, Ireland and Portugal are identified as soft drinks growth are as which have seen their markets expand faster than others in the West European region for the past five years. In the same period Austria, Denmark, and the Netherlands have consistently under performed. Surprise newcomer on the downward path is Sweden which, having enjoyed above average growth during the past five years, now finds itself facing an increase less than half the West European norm.