Affected by unfavorable winter weather, the European outdoor market raised its wholesale turnover by 1.4 percent to about €5.3 billion last year, based on the latest market research by the European Outdoor Group (EOG). The association's State of Trade report found that the increase amounted to 2.1 percent in value and 1.7 percent in volume excluding Russia. Across Europe, the outdoor market's retail value was estimated at €11.2 billion.

The erratic weather situation has encouraged suppliers to work toward a product mix that is less vulnerable to weather conditions. With sluggish growth across Europe, suppliers have also been striving to expand the scope of the market, as evidenced by the many lightweight products, athletic and urban outdoor apparel ranges displayed at this year's OutDoor fair.

The seasonal breakdown of European market sales in 2015 underlines the impact of the weather. As retailers ordered cautiously, sales in the European market excluding Russia were up by 1.6 percent for the fall/winter season, while they advanced by 2.7 percent for the spring/summer season.

France and the Netherlands were two of the countries that saw the strongest growth, with increases of 2.5 percent in sell-in for the year, while the performance of the British and Irish markets was below the European average with a rise of 1.8 percent. Southern Europe as a whole was the region with the most ample sales increase, up by 2.3 percent to €1.2 billion, trailed by Eastern Europe, which was up by 2.2 percent to €258 million.

The German-speaking countries generated a sales rise of 2.1 percent and remained by far the largest region with a wholesale turnover of about €2 billion. Sales in Scandinavia were up by 2.0 percent to an estimated €744 million.

The top ten countries accounted for 85 percent of the European market last year. Germany remains easily the largest market, making up about 26.3 percent of European sales, ahead of the U.K. and Ireland at 13.2 percent and France at 12.7 percent. Russia, which was once ranked the fifth-largest outdoor market in Europe, slipped to ninth place with a share of 3.8 percent. Their share is higher if winter sports products are included, as in the consumer surveys of the NPD Group. Under the definition of the market used by the EOG, which uses mostly sell-in figures supplied by the brands, most winter sporting goods products are excluded from its figures.

   

Excluding Russia, apparel was the weakest product category in 2015, with an increase of 1.7 percent in value, compared with 2.6 percent for footwear. With Russia, outdoor apparel sales moved up by 1.1 percent to €2.68 billion, while footwear sales inched up by 1.0 percent to €1.51 billion for footwear.

Apparel was clearly affected by the warm weather, since the winter season accounts for 62 percent of apparel, compared with 49 percent for footwear. The State of Trade report still found a sales increase of 1.3 percent for apparel in the winter excluding Russia.

The increase in footwear sales includes weak demand for boots, contrasting with an uptick in sales of mid-cut and low-cut outdoor shoes. Boots made up 16 percent of the footwear market last year, down by 3 percentage points, compared with rises of 1 percentage point to 48 percent for low-cut shoes and 3 percentage points to 32 percent for mid-cuts, while the remainder consists of sandals.

When it comes to equipment, backpacks are the largest category with €370.1 million, ahead of €165.2 million for tents, €121 million for climbing equipment and €107.6 million for sleeping bags, yet accessories generate the same level of turnover as backpacks.

The EOG pointed to backpacks as a strong category for the European market, with a sales increase of 3.2 percent for the year at the wholesale level - both with and without Russia. Tents generated a sales rise of 2.8 percent for the entire market. Sales of family tents were supported by an uptick in demand for inflatable tents, most prevalent in the U.K., Germany and the Benelux countries.

However, the EOG added that sell-in appears to have improved in the first half of this year. A survey conducted by the association found that 48 percent of brands raised their European sell-in by 5.1 percent or more in the six months to June.

Another market indicator, the EOG's Retail Barometer, which is based on input from major retailers, shows that 65 percent of the companies surveyed raised their sales in the first quarter of 2016 compared with the same quarter last year, and 45 percent of these respondents even raised their sales by at least 5 percent for the three months.

This is clearly due to the late start to the winter season in some of the largest European markets, and improving ski conditions across Europe at that time. Then again, the reported growth in quarterly sales wasn't so widespread in March, as the weather often remained cold and delayed the start of the spring season. About 35 percent of respondents reported sales growth of 5 percent or more in March.

The EOG will continue to strengthen its research activities, adding new resources this year. The association is also working on ad hoc research projects, such as a survey on gender diversity in the outdoor industry.