The European sports nutrition market is booming.

It is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 7.5% from US$500m in 2002 to reach $876.52m by 2009, shows new analysis from Frost &Sullivan.

Today's consumers are well aware of the relationship between health, diet and fitness and an improved lifestyle, the analysis shows. In Europe there has been an increase in people participating in exercise, and healthy food is now recognised as a priority in most people's lives.

The growth in sectors such as organic foods, vegetarianism, functional foods and dietary supplements is proof that consumer demand for healthy food is increasing. This consumer awareness in both diet and exercise will be a key driver for sports nutrition products.

The sports nutrition market has undergone a huge transformation in recent years. Gone are the days when these products were solely the reserve of elite athletes and body builders. Growing consumer awareness of the positive benefits of improved diet and fitness means that manufacturers now have the opportunity to penetrate the consumer nutrition market.

As the industry emerges from a specialised market into a mainstream one, a key challenge for manufacturers is to provide a product that not only delivers on performance, but also compares well with taste and texture.

"Sports nutrition products were launched to provide a performance product based purely on its functionality within the body. This has changed dramatically in recent years with successful products needing to combine both functionality and a desirable blend between taste and texture to meet consumer demands. There is still room for improvement that would drive consumer expenditure, and products that combine desirable taste and texture should build market share against countline goods," explained Frost & Sullivan food programme manager Anna Ibbotson.

The European market has always been led by the USA - trends that begin there soon filter through to Europe. The European market currently represents 60% of the value of the market in the USA, but its population is 2.5 times the size of the USA. Thus, the potential for further expansion with in Europe is substantial. However, manufacturers must approach the European market with care.

"The most important factor to recognise when addressing the European market from a sales perspective is the regional, economic, cultural and legislative differences that exist within the member states. Marketing plans that treat European countries as a United States of Europe where regional differences can be ignored are likely to fail or show very inconsistent results," said Ibbotson.