Special Report: The Consumers & Innovation Driving the Sports Nutrition Sector

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10 Apr 17 --- If there’s one market in the nutrition sector that can’t stay still for a second, it’s sports nutrition. Today NutritionInsight learns more about the consumers driving the latest sports nutrition trends, along with the challenges and opportunities occupying this lucrative, yet tricky corner of the nutrition industry.

Catering for the Athlete and the Hobbyist

Consumer interest in sport and fitness is higher than ever which has allowed sports nutrition companies to target both general consumers who want to improve their health, as well as the serious athletes who require specialized nutrition.

“While the core consumer in the sports nutrition sector has always been the “athlete,” the fastest growing consumer in this space is the hobbyist/weekend warrior (including the aging baby boomers),” Jeff Lind, the VP Sales and Marketing at Natreon, tells NutritionInsight.

He explains that the industry can support the two by realizing that these two segments have common supplementation needs – not competing needs.

“The key to targeting the two markets is to use sound science and a marketing message that does not alienate one or the other of these two groups,” he adds.

He continues, “Brands that understand these concepts will survive for the long haul and not be relegated to one niche or the other.”

Tyler Lorenzen, President of Proteins and Ingredients, World Food Processing agrees that the mass-market appeal of the hobbyist is certainly the larger market, which is important for growth.

“However, the other side of the spectrum is what will advance the sports nutrition industry into new areas that will eventually get to mass market,” Lorenzen adds.

“Both are critical and it is exciting to see so many “hobbyists” gain traction and the overall health and wellness of the nation moving in a better direction.”

However, despite the optimism of having multiple audiences to whom companies can target products, Lorenzen also notes that the variety in customers presents a major challenge.

“Sports nutrition is crossing so many different markets from the extreme athlete to the leisure athlete, servicing all these consumers while ensuring the message of the product and its purpose are clear and meaningful,” he says.

“Speaking to all consumers will undoubtedly be a major challenge to ensure sports nutrition is advanced, but also simple to understand.”

The Emerging Ageing Athlete

However, despite the difficulties of to speaking to various customers with one product, the various consumer types of the sports nutrition market do present the sector with a lucrative opportunity, with new audiences emerging.

“The aging athlete/weekend warrior is a big, and rapidly growing, market within the sports nutrition sector where innovation gets rewarded,” Lind at Natreon tells NutritionInsight.

“Watch any marathon, triathlon or bicycle race and you’re guaranteed to see that a sizable portion of the participants will be over 55,” he adds.

“Aging athletes have become increasingly important to the bottom line in the supplement industry.”

The trend looks set to form a key opportunity for the sector; much like the silvers market has for the rest of the nutrition industry.

“These customers are both affluent and unafraid to try natural supplements,” Lind continues, “They seek products that will boost performance, prevent injury, and prolong their active lifestyles.”

Clean Label in Sports Nutrition

When it comes to meeting the needs of all types of consumers, Lorenzen, says that hobbyists and athletes alike are searching for the same things: “Clean nutrition that can optimize their performance and keep them healthy.”

“Clean label sports nutrition is a massive trend moving forward,” he confirms.

“This can be achieved in many ways buy using clean, non-GMO and organic, allergen friendly, pea proteins made in the USA.”

“Athletes can be sure that these proteins do not contain hormones, heavy metals, or pesticides, all while having a quality protein containing all essential amino acids.”

The Continued Importance of Protein

Protein has been a staple in the nutrition sector for years, and its current popularity shows no signs of slowing down. Having been linked to lowering appetites as well as increasing strength, its no surprise that the macronutrient flourishes in the sports and fitness market.

Suvash Kafley, the Senior Director of Product Innovation at Milk Specialties Global, tells NutritionInsight that the different types of consumer are important because each has a different need from their protein.

“Athletes consume high whey and milk proteins to help recovery and build their muscles, while hobbyists consume protein for health and weight management and a tasty way to consume the protein serving suggested amount,” he says.

“Our company is able to support both types of consumer with our extensive milk and whey protein portfolio,” explains Kafley.

Kafley says that protein is “still the golden nutrient for sports nutrition” and believes that the future of protein will be on personalized nutrition.

“We see a rise in demand for products with specific labels: hormone-free, organic, clean label, natural, non-GMO,” he notes.

“This trend of personal preferences will continue, and companies will focus on meeting the demand while continuing to deliver the same nutrition.”

Protein popularity has been the backbone of the sports nutrition sector, and shows no signs of decelerating.

“Powders, including protein, make up 84% of sales in the sports nutrition category,” explains Lind.

He adds that because of the sheer size of the protein market, and the evolution of protein sources (including vegetarian/vegan sources), formulators are continuing to use protein as the base of their formulations and adding adjunctive ingredients for increased efficacy and product differentiation.

However, despite the popularity of the macronutrient, Lorenzen thinks there are still challenges to overcome.

“How athletes consume protein is a major theme to understand,” he says, adding that, “Utilizing protein in convenient delivery methods that provide solutions for an on-the-go athlete is key to success.”

Cognitive Supplementation in Sports Nutrition

An interesting area of the market is how supplementation is starting to target the cognitive health of consumers, not just the physical health.

Lind believes that that the link between cognitive supplementation and sports nutrition is already happening, “especially with pre-work out formulations.”

“Sports performance companies are already seeing a link between cognitive health/mental focus and having better workouts and over-all better results,” he explains.

“Clinical studies on cognitive supplementation with sports performance endpoints are already ongoing.”

Such studies and science are what is driving companies to invest in this area.

“The interest in cognitive supplementation and sports nutrition is gaining momentum very fast,” explains Kafley.

“There are currently studies related to this, and at Milk Specialties, we are working on a product that is a specialty for cognitive function.”

Overcoming Challenges

Despite science playing a key role in driving the sector, poor scientific evidence used by some members of the industry has resulted in a lack of consumer confidence in the sports nutrition world.

“The two biggest challenges to the sports nutrition market are scandal and a willing reliance on dubious science,” Lind argues.

“The recent negative press relating to products such as DMAA, aegeline, DMBA, BMPEA, and picamilon – among others – has caused a crisis of confidence relating to ingredients in this category,” he continues.

“Additionally, some companies are relying on spurious science in order to make claims within this space.”

The personalized nutrition trend is also something that sports nutrition companies need to carefully maneuver in order to gain the benefits.

“Following the future of protein in personal preferences will be the challenge of supplying specialty products for each consumer’s need,” Kafley adds.

Innovating in the Sector

Innovation and trend surfing is the key to success in any area, and in the sports and nutrition space this is certainly key.

Plant based proteins and ingredients is an example of such trends, and is an area where Lorenzen says, “We are constantly pushing the limits.”

“Through our innovation with PURISPea Protein and our PURISPea Starch, we are working on not only protein solutions, but carbohydrate solutions using low glycemic starches offering sustained energy and recovery.”

Natreon are also working to innovate the space, and are keen to stress how scientific studies play a key part in the products they product.

“We have several products that effectively service the sports nutrition market – all backed by multiple clinical studies,” explains Lind.

“PrimaVie (purified Himalayan shilajit) has two clinical studies showing that it increases total and free testosterone. It has also been shown to increase mitochondrial energy resulting in improved endurance capacity measured by increased exercise time.”

“Additionally, a recently published study conducted at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center showed that PrimaVie upregulated the genes responsible for collagen synthesis – especially important for healthy and vibrant aging.”

“Capros (Phyllanthus emblica, also known as amla) has been shown to increase Nitric Acid production by more than 50%, making it ideal for inclusion in pre-workout formulations.”

“Sensoril (Withania somnifera) – a patented ashwagandha extract derived from roots and leaves has been clinically studied for focus, joint health, and analgesic activity – all key components in sports nutrition innovation.”

So by investing in innovation combined with cleverly targeting an ever-evolving customer base, it seems that serious players in the sports nutrition sector could look forward to a bright future.

By Hannah Gardiner

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