The French spirit market continued its decline last year, according to research from drinks analyst Canadean. However, the drop in consumption was at a slower rate than that of wine and beer in the market.

Furthermore, dynamic categories such as whisky; liqueurs, cocktails and specialities; rum and cane spirit; brandy and vodka provide plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the market's future prospects, Canadean's report said.

"France's soft drinks and more specifically, Packaged Water markets have grown rapidly in recent years and there is evidence that this may have started to affect the consumption of alcohol. Although Spirits is the smallest alcoholic drinks market and sales slipped by around 162,000 cases last year, a revival is expected in 2003," said the report.

Fast growing varieties the pick of the crop Whisky is the second largest category overall and is still growing strongly. Standard Scotch whisky is the dominant segment with around 67% of sales. Supported by the strong performances of deluxe Scotch, malt whisky and Irish whiskey, the continued growth of standard Scotch has helped drive the category forward. Deluxe Scotch delivered double-digit growth largely as a result of sales of the leading brand growing by an outstanding 16%.

In what proved to be a difficult year, liqueurs, cocktails and specialities did well to grow by just under 3%. With the leading segments showing relatively modest fluctuations, much of this growth was attributable to the sparkling performance of the secondary segments. Sales of exotic, mint and orange flavoured products rose by 14%, 9% and 4% respectively.

Clear and flavoured vodka have helped the category become the fastest growing in France. This said, vodka is still relatively small and future growth looks assured. Sales of fourth placed rum and cane spirit continue to be invigorated by extremely popular white rum. White rum has benefited from a growing preference for white spirits and sales have now risen by just over 20% since 1998. Armagnac and Cognac helped fuel a healthy 6% increase in brandy sales.

Re-seeding required for hardy perennials In contrast, two major categories to have declined noticeably are anis/pastis and bitters. Both have ageing customer bases and have suffered at the hands of more dynamic competitors.

"The spirits market is likely to come under further pressure from the continued development of sectors such as soft drinks. In addition, stricter enforcement of drink-drive controls will doubtless have an effect. However, most categories offer the potential for expansion. A wide-ranging portfolio of new products are expected to play their part during 2003, when Canadean predict total sales volumes to advance by around 0.5%," the report said.