Growth rates in the East European market for soft drinks are now outstripping those in their West European counterpart by a factor of four, according to research from drinks analyst Canadean.

Canadean's estimates for 2002 indicate that East European volumes grew by more than 5% in the final quarter and nearly 9% during the year as a whole. In West Europe the comparable figures were only 1.3% and 2%. The volume gap between the two regions is also closing with West European sales falling from four times those of East Europe in 1997 to only three times last year.

Across East Europe during the year as a whole, packaged water easily outperformed the largest sector, carbonates, while the much smaller juice and nectars sector gained 14% overall, maintaining its buoyancy through into the final quarter.

Looking ahead to 2003, Canadean forecasts a wide variety of growth rates in the five largest volume markets: Russia, Poland, Turkey, Czech Republic and Ukraine. Russia's new found political stability and a generally improved economic performance are expected to raise consumer demand by a massive 18%, with carbonates and packaged water reaping most of the benefit.

Above average summer temperatures could also boost sales for the same two categories on the Polish market, but will not enable total soft drinks volume to increase by more than 4%.

Ukraine, on the other hand, is looking forward to overall growth of around 13% in 2003 with both packaged water and carbonates sales experiencing double digit increases.

Turkey alone is likely to see carbonates sales growing faster than those for packaged water, with flavoured soda, possibly rising by as much as a half. Sports and energy drinks could also double as a result of strong performance by Powerade, a relaunch by Isostar and the entry of Gatorade. None of this will, however, help lift total sales more than three per cent.

Lowest growth in the year ahead is expected to be registered by the Czech Republic, coming in with only 2%. The spectacular packaged water increases of recent years are now slowing although carbonates are likely to recover some ground thanks to a number of new launches including Pepsi Blue.

Looking at East Europe as a whole Canadean believes that for 2003 total soft drinks performance will be comparable to last year. Much of the incremental volume will come from packaged water, while carbonates will again find their primary growth impetus in the "other non fruit flavours" and clear lemonade segments. Juice and nectars meanwhile will improve on 2002's successes by rising a further 15%.