Sports and energy drinks were once again the fastest-growing category in 2011, The Grocer/Nielsen Top Product Survey reveals.

Sports and energy drinks were “providing a much-needed fix in today’s stressed, environment, keeping people focused as they go about their daily lives,” said Coca-Cola Enterprises CEO Simon Baldry, as volume sales leapt 12.6% following last year’s 14.6% surge [Nielsen 52w/e 1 October 2011]. All but one of the top 20 brands have grown, with CCE’s Monster the fastest- growing, with value up 64.7% to £47.5m,

NPD to broaden the offer, combined with strong execution, were driving massive incremental growth, Baldry added. And with an increasing number of healthier, lower-sugar, more natural alternatives now available, “the category will remain in strong growth”, said Paul Gurnell, category controller for Lucozade owner GSK.

But while energy drinks powered ahead in 2011, many categories have faced an uphill slog. Overall value growth of 3.4% across all the Top Products categories was below the rate of inflation, and volume sales have declined in more than 50% of the report’s 85 categories. Milk had a torrid year, with a price war reducing value sales by 5.7% overall wiping £169.4m off the category’s worth. Volume sales grew by just 1.2% over the year.

Perhaps the most surprising casualty of the past 12 months has been that stalwart of the downturn, baked beans. Even the mighty Heinz has had a difficult year, with its Beanz up just 1.8% by value and volume down 4%. Heinz said it aimed to drive usage by focusing on goodness. “Our 1 of your 5 a day campaign is showing early positive signs,” said Heinz marketing director Paula Jordan. With raw material cost increases all but one of the canned categories went into retreat. Meat and fish volume sales fell by 6.6% and 7.8% respectively.

Canned food has seen some large-scale changes this year, said Steve Gogerty, chairman of Canned Food UK, not least the sale of Premier Foods’ canned business to Princes and the acquisition of Fray Bentos by Baxters. “Having come through this transition, the industry is now structurally strong and we will see the benefits in the coming year,” he added.

Brits may be forsaking baked beans for instant pot snacks - another standout, with volume sales up 6% year-on-year. Unilever’s Pot Noodle accounts for half the sales in the £182m category and rose by 21.1%, while third and fourth-placed Mug Shot and Golden Wonder: The Nation’s Noodle chalked up 20%-plus sales growth.

The Grocer/Nielsen Top Products Survey pp32-143