The fashion logo has become less important than before in the European sunglass market, according to an ongoing research project whose latest results were released by the European Sunglass Association (ESA) at its annual convention in Barcelona a few days ago. The latest data also indicate that average selling prices have been going down and that the mass market, which already represents more than 75 percent of the volume in the major European countries, has been gaining in importance, due in part to the recent economic crisis.

This periodically updated research project is being conducted on behalf of ESA by Strategy With Vision, the international consultancy led by Mark McKenzie, using existing statistical data and interviews with suppliers and retailers in five major European countries. The presentation made in Barcelona showed a comparison between the data collected in 2006, 2007 and 2009 in individual markets, with additional checks made in May-June 2010, allowing the researchers to extrapolate some trends, triggering some interesting comments and providing input for future research.

SWV's study divides the sunglass market into three different price segments, based on net manufacturers' selling prices: the mass market, at €20 a pair or less, mostly comprising unbranded and private-label products; the mid-priced market, at €20 to €50 a pair, generally covering the more affordable licensed brands; and the premium market, at €50 a pair and up.

The French sunglass market has been less affected by the economic recession than those of Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K., the study showed, but there has been an increase in the number of first-price offerings at opticians, leading to a decline in average selling prices from €68 to €59 per pair. The total volume of sunglasses sold showed in fact a slight increase in volume between 2008 and 2009, but a slight decrease in value, although what McKenzie calls the ?Ray-Ban-isation? of the market has led to relatively stable overall volumes for branded sunglasses.

All in all, the French plano sunglass market was estimated by SWV at about 14.6 million pairs and €157 million in wholesale value in 2009. The total value showed a 9 percent decrease from the 2007 level. The mid-priced segment dominates in France with 8.2 million pairs, compared with 2.5 million pairs in the premium segment. SWV estimates that 57 percent of all the sales go through opticians, while supermarkets and fashion retailers take up 27 and 18 percent of the market, respectively.

Discounters' sales and internet sales have increased in Germany, where the mass market has the highest volume at 13.1 million pairs out of a total of 22.6 million pairs sold in the country. On the other hand, at €78 million, the value of the premium market is just a little higher than that of the mass market, estimated at €76.9 million. The German market has been rather stable over the years in terms of volume and retail price points, in spite of the higher VAT, showing a total value assessed at €226.3 million for 2009.

In Germany, 46 percent of sales go through the supermarkets and fashion retailers. Independent opticians have only 22 percent of the market. Department store sales are declining. Chains and sporting goods stores are selling more sports and sports-inspired eyewear, a segment that is growing and is estimated to represent one-fourth of the market.

In Italy, the recession has led to a reduction in the number of fashion brands preferred by consumers, leaving Ray-Ban as the strongest brand, with a firm position at the €120 price point, while Carrera has been growing sharply. Fashion is still more important than function in Italy, however, according to SWV.

The total value of the Italian plano sunglass market went down to €180.0 million in 2009 compared with €288.3 million in 2007. Big losses in the premium segment could not offset gains in volume and value in the low and mid-priced segments. The latest surveys indicate a marginal recovery so far in 2010, without attaining the levels of 2007.

Independent opticians have a 43 percent share of the Italian sunglass market, says SWV, but they are losing market share to non-optical channels.

A drop of 27 percent to €149.0 million was assessed for the Spanish sunglass market by SWV between 2006 and 2009. The mid-priced segment has held up relatively well, compared with the two other segments. Like in Italy, however, there was a major decline in the premium segment over the period ? from 4.4 million to 2.9 million pieces in a total market of 20.1 million pairs.

In Spain, independent opticians have an almost equal share of the market in terms of value as the supermarkets and the fashion retailers: 34 and 33 percent, respectively. Opticians have been able to establish themselves in the €70-110 price bracket in terms of retail price points, but with heavy discounting of branded products. Specialized retailers have been gaining market shares.

The U.K. market went down in value to €121.9 million in 2009 from €174.1 million in 2006, although the volume grew slightly to 17.8 million pieces from 17.3 million. The mass market remained stable in volume, but its value decreased to €43.4 million from €50.4 million. The premium market also grew in volume, but its value fell to €58 million from €88 million.

Independent opticians have only 7 percent of the British sunglass market, which is dominated by the supermarkets and fashion retailers with a share of 40 percent. Low-cost fashion chains such as H&M, New Look, Matalan and Primark have a strong position. They are being challenged by the internet, which has a larger presence in this market than in other European countries.

Details of the study, which are available to ESA members, also show that functionality is a growth area in the European market and that sports retailers and opticians could be the specialty channel of the future.