UK retailers are missing out on opportunities to capitalise on the booming market for plus-size clothing, new research has found, with a massive 80% of plus-size women feeling that too few stores offer enough choice for non-mainstream sizes.

The research from Mintel reveals around one in five Brits (20% of men and 17% of women) currently wears plus-size clothing. But nearly half (46%) of plus-size men and eight in ten (78%) plus-size women are unhappy at the lack of retailers providing sufficient choice for shoppers of different sizes.  

Mintel estimates that the plus-size women's wear market increased in value by 47% over the last five years, from GBP2.7bn (US$4.46bn) to reach a new high of GBP4bn in 2011. This compares to growth of 15% in mainstream women's wear.

"The commercial viability of grabbing a share of the evolving plus-size clothing market is being recognised by some retailers, hence the fashion offer catering to larger sizes has expanded over the last couple of years," explains Michelle Strutton, senior FMCG analyst at Mintel.

"However, a lot of the progress has been limited to online specialists and many high street fashion outlets remain inflexible in their sizing policies. Among plus-size shoppers, discontent continues to prevail over limited choice and the difficulty in finding clothes that fit."

The sector has also proved to be resilient in the enduring difficult economic landscape - with the research predicting that the plus-size women's wear market will increase by 43% between 2011 and 2016 to reach GBP5.7bn.

"Over the last five years the plus-size men's wear market has grown by 7% - the same rate as the total men's wear market - to reach GBP1.9bn. And over the next five years, it is expected to expand by 13% to GBP2.2bn.

Supermarkets are the number one destination for plus-size clothing shoppers, with over half of size 18 and above women (56%) and six in ten (61%) men wearing XL and bigger clothing buying garments here. This is up from 41% of plus-size women in 2005 and three times the number of plus-size men (up from 21%) shopping at these outlets in 2005.

But limited choice on the high street also means over four in ten plus-size women turn to specialist retailers - rising to more than half (53%) of women wearing size 20 and above. Some 70% of women and 47% men say they feel clothes sizes lack consistency and differ between brands and retailers. Overall, six in ten (59%) consumers are dissatisfied by the lack of uniformity in clothes sizes between different retailers and brands.

Size set to become a bigger issue
The research backs up Mintel Inspire's "The Big Issue" trend prediction, examining how brands have a chance to counter or cater to this trend, or perhaps find a way to rise above the argument via balance, choice and transparency.

"As the UK becomes more obese as a nation, with levels predicted to rocket over the next few decades - despite the recent plateau - size will become an even more important issue in society," notes Richard Cope, principal trends analyst at Mintel Inspire.

"Many plus-size consumers are hungry for more trend-led fashion options in larger sizes, and this demand will continue to rise. It is no longer acceptable to marginalise and ignore this growing customer base, which has traditionally been underserved by fashion retailers.

"Brands can opt to actively accommodate larger-sized consumers or brands can 'join the fight' against obesity by promoting weight loss or even refusing to cater to bigger bodies.

"However, brands can transcend the argument by avoiding judgment calls and emphasising things both sides can agree upon, like health, choice and access."

Click here for more details on Mintel's Size Matters UK 2011 report.