Changing Markets Require a New Approach
Oster has illustrated one of the main challenges facing the powder market: advertising. While sports powders’ user base has broadened to include casual athletes, the changing market demographics indicate that product positioning will require manufacturers and brand consultants to strike a delicate balance in the types of claims they make.
“Casual users are fundamentally most interested in health-and-wellness claims rather than sports nutrition claims,” Oster says. “A lot of these casual athletes are focused on broader claims like ‘non-GMO’ and ‘organic.’ Powders are stereotypically associated with bodybuilders, which is an optics problem that needs to be straightened out.”
Oster says that product positioning is starting to change, and with the new challenge of attracting as broad a user base as possible, more widespread adoption is happening in fits and starts. Oster points to the proliferation of new market segments as an opportunity for growth. Expanding beyond core powder users, he says, will mean appealing to adherents of the paleo movement, as well as vegans. Nutrition 21’s Weiss points out that when it comes to plant-protein powders, “Recently, these products have been dramatically improved from a taste and mouthfeel standpoint, which has helped them become more mainstream.”
But Paleo dieters may also view vegan options as inferior to animal or dairy proteins, Oster notes, which is why beef protein powders are gaining popularity. The common thread running between the two trends, he says, is a clean-label approach.
Bagchi agrees. “People are getting more careful with what they put in their bodies. There’s a lot of research in the public domain to show how ingredients and products are performing.”
Certification and research are also important, Bagchi adds. A growing demand for certification is expected to benefit the sports powder industry by providing easier access to a more mainstream consumer base and rout low-quality products from the industry. Oster says that a certification program for sports powders will allay consumers’ fears and expand powders out of the niche market and into the mainstream.
Says Oster: “There’s still this reluctance on the part of consumers. They want to know what they’re putting in their bodies. There’s all this news about dimethylamylamine (DMAA) coming out, news about questionable formulations and adulteration of products, powders started outside any kind of regulatory apparatus. A certification procedure will only help to allow for greater adoption among mainstream consumers.”
The best strategy for capitalizing on the resurgence of sports powders, these experts agree, is threefold: Narrower target audiences with specialized marketing claims, clean-label practices that encourage transparency around formulations and ingredients, and a greater variety of formulations that can appeal to specific market segments like paleo dieters and vegans.
When striving to take advantage of a rapidly expanding market, it seems that the tried-and-true, honest approach works best: Sell your audience on the benefits that they want, and then give them the high-quality product that they need.
Also Read: A Long History of Powders
While modern sports powders were first invented in the 1950s, they have an ancient precursor that dates all the way back to the classical era. One of the earliest references to a powder-like sports supplement is found in the writings of Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder (AD 23–AD 79). In Natural History, Book XXXVI, Pliny the Elder quotes scholar Marcus Varro as saying, “Your hearth should be your medicine chest. Drink lye made from its ashes…gladiators after a combat are helped by drinking this.”
Also Read: International Sports Powder Market Rapidly Expanding
The North American sports powder market is very well established, says Euromonitor research analyst Matthew Oster, with the U.S. market approximately six times larger than emerging markets like Europe. However, international markets are undergoing rapid growth, with the United Kingdom and Germany leading the charge. Oster says he expects sports powders in those areas to reach the level of RTD supplements and bars in just a few years, noting that what’s happening in Western Europe “is the same thing that happened in the United States over the last 15 years, but in the UK and Germany it’s happened within the last two to five years.”
- Schmidt C. “The rise of protein in the global health and wellness and supplement arenas.” Euromonitor International. Published online April 8, 2014.
- Kalman D et al., “Randomized prospective double-blind studies to evaluate the cognitive effects of inositol-stabilized arginine silicate in healthy physically active adults,” Nutrients, vol. 8, no. 11 (November 2016): E736
- Bresson JL et al., “Creatine in combination with resistance training and improvement in muscle strength: evaluation of a health claim pursuant to Article 13(5) of Regulation (EC) no 1924/2006.” EFSA Journal, vol. 14, no. 2 (February 2016): 4400. European Food Safety Authority. Published online ahead of print February 2, 2016.
- Pliny the Elder. Natural History, Volume X: Books 36-37. Harvard University Press. (1962): 158-159