Soft drink consumption worldwide rose slightly last year, led by growth in East Europe, according to recent research.

In its '2008 Global Soft Drinks' report, released today (5 December), drinks consultancy Zenith International said that global consumption of soft drinks last year increased by 3.9% year-on-year to 552bn litres, equivalent to 82.5 litres per person. The growth was led by still drinks, Zenith noted, crediting the segment with "embracing a consumer desire for health and well-being alternatives", and bottled water, reflecting its "natural and calorie-free hydration virtues".

For still drinks, the fastest growing region was East Europe with a 19.8% uplift in 2007, followed by Africa on 11.1%. Bottled water, meanwhile, recorded 6.1% growth last year, with Africa gaining the most at 14.3%, ahead of East Europe on 10.4%. West Europe was the only region witnessing a decline in bottled water consumption, partly due to poor summer weather and environmental pressure, Zenith said.

Taking all soft drinks together, the greatest growth in 2007 came from the developing market of East Europe, achieving a 9.8% increase. Elsewhere, Africa grew by 7.1%, Asia Pacific by 6.9%, the Middle East by 6.6% and Latin America by 4.3%. In the two mature markets of North America and West Europe, North America enjoyed slightly greater growth of 1.1%, compared to 0.1% for West Europe.

"Health continues as an increasingly important factor driving purchasing behaviour around the globe," said Zenith market intelligence director Gary Roethenbaugh. "In 2007 bottled water beat CSDs and became the largest market by volume.

"In the context of rising concerns about obesity and greater interest in health, consumers are re-evaluating their choices and turning to healthier refreshments. Still fruit, tea and sports drinks enjoyed the highest growth of all, rising by 6.4%."

The report also found that bottled water claimed an overall 37.3% share in 2007, pushing CSDs to second place on 36.8%. Still drinks came third on 12.7%, followed by fruit juice/nectars on 7.1% and dilutables on 6.1%.

By 2012, Zenith said, global soft drinks consumption will reach around 675bn litres, representing 95 litres per person.