Special Edition: Sports Nutrition

What’s driving US sports nutrition in 2017? Blurring categories, casual users, and Instagram

Photo: iStock/vovashevchuk

The US sports nutrition market in 2016 posted a value growth of 12%, according to market analytics firm Euromonitor, dubbing it as ‘another good year for the category.’

Grouped into Euromonitor’s definition of sports nutrition are protein powders, bars, and RTD products, as well as sports non-protein products that have a marketing and positioning angle of improving sports functionality.

“But these distinctions are a little bit malleable these days as companies are increasingly eating into the space a little bit more, and sports nutrition companies are expanding outside of their traditional core users,” said Matt Oster, consumer health industry manager at Euromonitor.

This malleability, which invites more consumers into the category, is a major driver in the category’s growth, Oster said. “You go into a Walgreens, and you can see how they’re being positioned physically on the shelves—they’re right next to say a weight management product, or a fortified functional snack,” he said.

Packets versus bulk, indicator of the rising casual user

The most visible trend of how sports nutrition consumption is changing is the increasingly widespread availability of protein powder in single-serve packets. “As the market has shifted a little bit and companies are changing how they pitch these products, [instead of] the big bulk format, you’re seeing more pack-size that’s attracting more casual users,” Oster said.

Format and serving size aside, branding strategies also indicate how the industry is reaching out to more consumers outside of core bodybuilding users as fitness becomes a national pastime and obsession.

Oster noted that sports nutrition companies today are actively engaging with consumers who traditionally weren’t targeted in the category’s earlier years, namely women and the older population. “There’s FitMiss by MusclePharm, or StrongGirl—generally the formulation is not remarkably different, but it’s the positioning,” he added.

‘Healthy selfie’ trend means sports nutrition isn’t just functional

Credit goes to social media for being another source of growth in sports nutrition popularity and sales. According to global branding and marketing firm Interbrand Health, functional descriptions of physique and results isn’t really what consumers care for, though they may still look for it.

What many sports nutrition buyers today care about is finding a product that’s an extension of who they are—so they can take a picture of it and interact with the brand on social media, said Dominic Leung, senior director of strategy at Interbrand Health.

“People are looking for avenues to engage with brands, not just purchasing a one-off product,” Leung told NutraIngredients-USA in a previous interview. “It’s about creating an ecosystem. For example, you have a protein product. You can talk about the social desirability and sexual energy of life you can get from a great body.

“Or, you can have protein that enables a great body because you fundamentally believe you need that strength to take care of your family, your children. Or, you’re saying it’s about my discipline and focus. I kill it at the gym, and also at work.”

Euromonitor’s Matt Oster will be speaking at out FREE Sports Nutrition Online Conference

Can anything stop the booming sports nutrition category as it broadens and softens and attracts more mainstream consumers? The US sports nutrition market is dynamic and diverse beast, valued at an eye-watering $10 billion for drinks, shots, bars, gels, and supplements.

But where is the innovation and which are the innovative brands? Which products are driving category growth, and what’s next for sports and lifestyle nutrition? Can anything stop protein? What’s happening with carbs? And what about the rise of nootropics for focus and decision making?

We’ll answer these questions and many more during our unique, free-to-attend Sports Nutrition Online Conference. NutraIngredients-USA will assemble sport nutrition scientists, product formulators, leading brands, and market experts to talk about what’s hot, what’s not, and how to stay ahead of the chasing pack. Click HERE to register.

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