Sports nutrition is expanding across consumers, categories, and positionings

March 25, 2019

The sports nutrition industry is amidst a long-term growth trend unparalleled in recent consumer health history. From 2004 to 2018, the global sports nutrition market grew 190% at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.9%, according to Euromonitor International. Such high growth for that long is unprecedented in fast-moving consumer goods. Fads and new product developments can stir consumer interest for a handful of years, but even the broadest trends mature and show flattening growth over the long term.

Underlying this growth is an increasingly split market. Core users focus on whey-based proteins and amino acids for muscle building and gaining weight while newer users gravitate toward a variety of other needs requiring different functionality and ingredients. Over the last decade, casual users and healthy-living enthusiasts, interested in broader active-nutrition goals, have emerged as a critical class of consumers that continues to drive trends in this space.

Newer consumers to the category have broader demands for sports nutrition: weight loss, fighting age-related ailments like sarcopenia, or, for vegans and vegetarians, supplementing their diet. There’s also the broad swath of consumers with nebulous health, nutrition, or lifestyle goals who want to live healthy and active lifestyles but aren’t interested in performance goals per se.

The mix of sports nutrition products is expanding to meet the demands of these new consumer groups. Healthy nutrition advocates are drawn less to the traditional offer of whey-based protein and instead opting for fitness-oriented products like plant-protein powders, nodding toward a slimming or clean-label orientation or on-the-go snack-based options like sports protein bars and ready-to-drink (RTD) sports protein.

The expansion to new consumer groups, positionings, and an overall wider health focus has put sports nutrition in direct competition with the broader nutritional products universe, which includes healthy consumables across packaged goods like health and wellness foods, vitamins and dietary supplements, and weight management and wellbeing products that are used to meet consumers’ nutritional and health goals. Newer adopters of sports nutrition are viewing these products as an extension of the larger nutritional purchases they make to meet their daily lifestyle goals. At the same time, product launches and ingredient innovations in healthy snacking have pushed the much larger nutritional space in the direction of sports nutrition as well.



Source: Euromonitor International

Increased interest in protein as a functional ingredient has created direct competition from the health and nutrition marketplace increasingly saturated by protein products. Most legacy food and drink companies have introduced a protein-fortified extension to tie their brand to the protein halo, especially within the snacking universe. As newer sports nutrition evangelists demonstrate, meeting consumers’ insatiable appetite for protein can come in several forms. Though these products have performance and exercise benefits, many times they are marketed as better-for-you snacks. Protein launches are popping up all over the grocery aisle, and given the broad positioning of protein, it is increasingly unclear how these products should be consumed. Are they purely for functional/healthier snacking? Can consumers swap these products in before, during, or after a workout? This intentional blurring means that some consumers will use these products for both purposes.