The US is still the largest alcoholic drinks market, but China is on course to overtake it in 2003, according to research out today.

The 2003 Global Alcoholic Drinks Report from Zenith International said that while the US is the largest beer consumer China would overtake it this year.  Meanwhile China, Russia and India headed the global spirits rankings in 2002. Japan is the leading market for other alcoholic drinks, largely due to the popularity of sake.

After the US and China in overall alcoholic consumption, Germany, Russia and Brazil occupy the next three places, while Asia and Australasia has the highest regional consumption with a 2002 share of 29%, followed by West Europe on 24%.

"Already the most important region by volume, Asia is also forecast to be the fastest growing, thereby representing a particular opportunity for international companies," said Gary Roethenbaugh of Zenith. "China is the main country to watch as it stretches its global lead to a predicted 17% volume share in 2007, compared with 14% for the United States.

Global consumption of alcoholic drinks has increased at a slow but steady rate in recent years, rising 2.7% in 2002 to 192 billion litres and an estimated 1.7% in 2003 to 195 billion litres.

Zenith International estimates that alcoholic drinks claim a stable 14% share of total purchased beverage consumption worldwide, similar to milk drinks but well behind hot drinks and soft drinks.  Consumption per person is hovering around 31 litres per year.

"Changing economic conditions and government taxation pressures have been two of the main challenges facing the alcoholic drinks industry," said Roethenbaugh.  "Health issues and concerns over responsible alcohol consumption are also becoming more important around the globe."

Individual consumption patterns strongly reflect local cultural traditions, Zenith said in a statement. West Europe records the highest level at 118 litres per person in 2002. North America comes second at 98 litres, then East Europe at 64 litres and Latin America at 48 litres.  Asia and Australasia, Africa and the Middle East trail at well below the 31 litre global average.

The fastest growing region in 2002 was East Europe with a 6% uplift.

Beer is by far the biggest sector with a 74% volume share in 2002, leaving 13% to wine, 10% to spirits and 3% to others.

The Czech Republic has the highest consumption rate at 187 litres per person in 2002.  The other top five consuming countries are Ireland, Germany, Slovenia and Austria.

West Europe accounts for well over 50% of global wine consumption.

Zenith forecasts that global consumption of alcoholic drinks will rise gradually to 210 billion litres by 2007.  Despite heightened competition for share of throat, alcoholic drinks are expected to overtake milk drinks within the next five years.  All alcoholic drink sectors should experience growth, with beer edging further ahead of both wine and spirits.