Slimming products in Belgium grew by 14 per cent in value over 2004 to reach a retail value of €29 million, shows a new Euromonitor report.
This is well above the mere 6.6 per cent growth in the UK's slimming products market - the largest in Europe - and the 10.3 per cent growth in Spain over the same period.
Belgium's supplement market has been under-developed in comparison to many others and most OTC products can only be sold by pharmacies. Yet local dietary supplements manufacturers such as Omega Pharma emerged in recent years and suddenly boosted sales, notably in tablets, says Euromonitor.
Yet despite the drive by both doctors and government authorities to increase awareness of obesity, the main driver of growth in slimming products in Belgium continues to be concerns over appearance.
"Most Belgians, and primarily women, feel that they should lose weight to look and feel better, rather than reducing the risk of obesity," say the analysts.
This is reflected in the concentration of sales just after the New Year, and ahead of the summer and bikini season.
Manufacturers are also benefiting from the growing role played by magazines, and increasingly television programmes, on women's desire to appear slim, fit and young.
And harder legislation on prescription slimming products has had a benefit on OTC products and those considered 'natural'.
"Even if slimming has always been a major selling point, Belgium seems to have just started to really 'wake up' : consumers are more aware of their weight, thus herbal and supplement manufacturers focus on this segment," said Christiana Benkouider, head of Health and Wellness research at Euromonitor.
But she added that authorities are also waking up. "A tougher legislation on supplements could be implemented soon."
Tablets are seeing the most dynamic growth - up 16 per cent to €8 million during 2004. Almost a third of these sales come from thermogenics, or fat burners, while a quarter are generated by fat or carb blockers.
Appetite suppressants were responsible for 16 per cent of all tablet sales.
But other slimming products really emerged in 2004, under the impetus of Arkopharma, which launched a liquid slimming treatment called 18.104.22.168. Made with 10 different plants, including citrus aurantium, green tea, guarana and mate, the product is aimed at burning fat, purifying and toning.
Thanks to the well-established presence of Arkopharma in pharmacies, this new product immediately took the leadership in the other slimming products category, according to Euromonitor.
Valued at €2 million in 2004, the progress of slimming teas tended to slow. Many players were present with one or two products for tactical reasons but these did not really show strong sales, says the report.
Meal replacement products represented the most valuable product and a still dynamic category although there was less dynamic growth in 2004 than the peak of 32 per cent in 2002.
The report also reveals that bars have taken over from instant lunches in 2003, meeting the needs of the increasingly hectic lifestyles of Belgians and their preference for self-indulgence products.
The growing concern about the dangers of obesity and overweight will fuel further demand for slimming products as estimates suggest that one Belgian out of two could be overweight in the near future if there are no changes in eating habits.
In 2004, obese people represented around 15 per cent of the Belgian population while overweight people accounted for 41 per cent in 2004. These proportions were much higher for women: 18 per cent of the female population was considered obese while 47 per cent were overweight.
Consumers will also be increasingly aware of the problems caused by a high cholesterol level.
Slimming products should grow by 52 per cent in constant value terms to reach €44 million by 2009, outstripping other healthcare products like vitamins and minerals, predicts Euromonitor.
New formats of slimming products will continue to be successful, and as in other countries, diet patchescould enter the Belgian market in the forecast period.
The upgraded quality of instant lunches and bars in recent years may also attract more men, traditionally a much less important segment of the population for these products, as they require less sacrifice in terms of taste and consistency.
The report, 'Health and Wellness Healthcare Products in Belgium', also covers the national market for herbal remedies and vitamins and dietary supplements, giving retail sales data from 2002-2004.