The optical market of the European Union totaled €20 billion in retail sales last year, with Germany as the biggest national market, representing one-fifth of revenues, according to a Gfk Marketing Services survey that comprises contact lenses and solutions, prescription lenses, frames and sunglasses. Germany reached sales of more than €4 billion, followed by France with €3.8 billion, the UK with € 3.0 billion and Spain with €1.8 billion.

In the five main European markets, sales of prescription lenses rose by 7.2 percent in 2007, contact lenses by 1.8 percent and prescription frames by 9.9 percent, the survey showed.

The number of specialized eyewear stores has risen by 8.5 percent to 42,700 in Europe between 1998 and 2006. In Italy, small and medium-sized retailers continue to dominate the market, but large chains are on the rise. Their market share grew to 25.8 percent last year from 19.2 percent in 1996.

The development of large stores accelerated in Europe during the last two years, Gfk said. They totaled 2,760 units in 2007 compared with 2,149 in 2005.

The survey also unveiled some data on Asia, which is considered to be the ?new frontier? for the optical industry. The number of optical stores is given now as a total 15,614 in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Australia.