The total value of the soft contact lens market in 18 major European countries reached €1,151 million in 2007, a 7.4 percent increase from the previous year. All markets showed growth with the exception of Greece, which went down by 1.39 percent. Russia grew by an impressive 50.8 percent.

These are some of the findings made public by Euromcontact from its ongoing research on the European contact lens market, based on the data regularly supplied since 2003 by major producers that represent 80-90 percent of the disposable lens market in these countries.

The Nordic countries had the highest penetration rate for soft contact lenses in 2007, at 6.89 percent of the adult population above the age of 15, a 3.5 percent growth from 2006. Germany's 2.9 percent decline, on the other hand, put it at the bottom of the list, with 2.10 percent penetration, although many customers in this country wear rigid contact lenses. There was also a decline of 1.3 percent in total users in France. The Netherlands saw 4.5 percent growth, putting the country in second place at 5.64 percent ? just ahead of the flat figure of 5.18 percent for the U.K. and Ireland.

The Nordic market, the U.K./Ireland and Switzerland have the highest share of silicone hydrogel weekly/bi-weekly and monthly lenses (59.4 percent, 59.1 percent and 55.94 percent, respectively). While it is an exception to this pattern among the high-penetration regions, the Netherlands grew by almost 10 percentage points in this segment last year, reaching a 29 percent ratio compared with 19.4 percent in 2006. In the 11 markets, the share of silicone hydrogel in weekly/bi-weekly/monthly lenses ranged from 22 percent in Spain to 59.4 percent in the Nordic region. Austria had 49.2 percent; Germany was at 40.8 percent. Overall, the use of silicone hydrogel lenses grew from 31.8 percent in 2006 to 40.3 percent last year.

Daily disposables are worn by 3.5 percent of the people in the Nordic countries; 2.48 percent in the U.K./Ireland; and 1.8 percent of the Swiss ? the top three markets for these products. Of the 11 countries for which data were reported by all the companies, the increase in the use of daily disposables was strongest in the Netherlands, where it was up by 33.8 percent; Belgium/Luxembourg, 29.8 percent; Spain, 25.4 percent; and Italy, 24.2 percent. They remain a strong growth driver, even 10 years after their introduction.

Weekly or bi-weekly and monthly lenses are worn by 4.37 percent of people over 15 in the Netherlands, an increase of 2.7 percent, and 1.53 percent to 3.26 percent elsewhere, with the exception of Russia, which had 0.40 percent penetration, a growth of 41.7 percent. France, Italy, Germany and the U.K./Ireland all saw declines in this segment.

The study also looks at the lens care market, which grew in the 18 countries by 3.3 percent to €248.5 million, though it enjoyed positive growth in only four of the markets. A year-by-year comparison is difficult, however, because in 2006 one major company did not ship lens care products for several months, and in 2006 and 2007 there was a recall and some product was replaced. Expenditure on lens care was proportionately highest in Austria and lowest in the U.K. and Ireland.

The companies involved in the study are AMO, Alcon, Avizor, Bausch & Lomb, CIBA Vision, CooperVision, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care and Menicon Europe. The report warned that some local lens suppliers that may have had significant market share may have been excluded, especially in gas-permeable and traditional soft lenses, so the results stated may not be entirely accurate, particularly in countries with high usage of gas-permeable lenses such as Germany and the Netherlands.