Staying Ahead of the Game: Sports Nutrition Market Trends for Dietary Supplements, Food, and Drinks

May 17, 2016
Within the complex world of sports nutrition, there is rapidly increasing change, not just in who consumes sports products but in how they do it and what retains their buy-in.

So, where is this market heading?


Sporty Foods Welcomed by All

Sports supplements and related health products are not just for trained athletes. Inevitably, a growing number of everyday people consume these items on the daily as part of their pursuit of a healthy lifestyle. But even as sports nutrition manufacturers win over these non-niche consumers, the category’s more-traditional clientele—bodybuilders, elite athletes, and so on—shouldn’t be forgotten.

The converging point for both types of consumers appears to be, according to several market analysts and manufacturers, a trend towards more “real food” products in the sports nutrition category. As Innova Market Insights says in its “Top 10 Trends for 2016” report, “Rather than consumers opting for these [traditional] sports nutrition products, manufacturers are reaching out to them with better-tasting sports products that are presented in a friendlier way so that sports nutrition can be truly suitable for all.”

One example of this tendency is the multinational brand Myprotein, which now sells jerkies, nut pastes, oats, and cookies alongside traditional supplement products, with all of these products positioned on their protein content. A more unique example is the European food brand Backaldrin, which last year launched a whole-grain sports bread—yes, sports bread—called Actipan. Reportedly developed in accordance with recommendations from the German Olympic Sports Confederation, the whole-grain loaf, made with particular selections of grains and sprouted legumes, delivers carbohydrates, vitamins, and trace minerals that, when complemented by spreads or other foods, “provides everything that active, body-conscious people need on a daily basis.”

The ongoing marketing shift towards sporty food involves a lot of repositioning of regular foods; however, it’s also a stage for suppliers of highly standardized ingredients, many backed by sports performance research, to get in the game. Bioenergy Life Science Inc. (Ham Lake, MN), for instance, a supplier of D-ribose that supports the body’s production of ATP, recently announced Novel Foods status for its ingredient, opening up its business to functional foods and beverages in the United Kingdom.


Food Bars

Evidence of a move to sporty foods is easily found in the food bars category. According to a report from the market research group Mintel, U.S. sales of all bars (snack, nutrition, and protein) grew 30% between 2009 and 2014, to $6.2 billion. In an already saturated market, Mintel says the promotion of functional claims on bars, in combination with whole-food ingredients, will meet consumer demand and help stave off competition.

An advantage of food bars over other products is that these items can and tend to be consumed without much restraint. A recent Mintel online survey suggests that food bars, and even “performance bars” in particular, are frequently consumed as meal replacements, as snacks in between meals, and in multiples during a single eating session.

Food bars are also convenient when it comes to protein fortification. Alongside food bars, items like cereals, breads, and other grain products remain strong suitors for protein claims, real-food ingredients, and other sports-related values.


The Rise of Ready-to-Drink

As with bars, beverages continue their own market ascent, but with an increasingly “natural” bent. Virginia Lee, a beverage analyst at market research firm Euromonitor, says that natural formulations and reformulations are penetrating the sports ready-to-drink (RTD) beverage category, not only in the form of coconut water—which she says is “frequently marketed as ‘nature’s sports drink’”—but with a notable uptick in natural colorants and sweeteners, too.

The trend towards “natural” is especially relevant in the sale of energy drinks, but it’s also evident in a recent trend of workout powder mixes turning into RTDs. Chris Schmidt, another Euromonitor analyst, says he doesn’t expect core users to seek out these newer configurations of their favorite products, but that these iterations could help snare consumers “who haven’t quite graduated to buying tubs of powder concentrate.”

Despite the exceptions, sports drinks in general continue to be popular. Another recent Mintel online survey found that nearly half of respondents even drink them when they aren’t working out. (See figure below.)