Soft drinks volumes in Europe in the last three months of 2006 grew by just under 3%, according to recent research.

In a report titled West European Soft Drinks Service Quarterly Review Q4 2006 and East European Soft Drinks Service Quarterly Review Q4 2006, market analyst Canadean reported this week that packaged water was the key volume contributor, with particularly strong growth observed in Germany. In category terms, sports and energy drinks also saw strong gains, fuelled by distribution expansion and general brand advancement.

"Across Eastern Europe, as in the west of the region, Q4 was characterised by warmer than average temperatures and again packaged water was the main beneficiary in volume terms, up a staggering 19% compared with the last three months of 2005," Canadean reported. "Once again sports and energy drinks enjoyed a relatively good final quarter, as did most soft drink categories."

Canadean added that, in new product development terms, the final quarter of 2006 had been relatively quiet in Europe, with activity primarily focused on low-calorie products or those offering specific added value. In addition, a number of producers launched healthy 'winter' product variants.

"The increasing consumer trend towards a healthier lifestyle continues to boost demand for functional and enriched products which offer physical or mental well-being," Canadean said. Functional product launches were seen in the iced tea, near waters, juice and still drinks categories, the company added.

In Western Europe, juice volumes were down by almost 1% in the fourth quarter of 2006 with "borderline" growth in nectars. But the picture was rosier in the east, where both categories experienced strong double digit growth in Q4 compared to the same period of 2005, though average per capita levels are lower than in the west.

Canadean said that the full-year performance for juice and nectars in eastern Europe was equally encouraging. However, the analyst pointed out that much of this increase - and almost half of eastern European volume - comes from Russia.