Emerging flavors in sports products

Nutritional OutlookNutritional Outlook Vol. 23 No. 7
Volume 23
Issue 7

Sports products are in the middle of a flavor revolution.

Photo © AdobeStock.com/Kitch Bain

Sports nutrition products are becoming more diverse, both in format and in flavor. As the market matures, offering consumers novel and interesting flavors is essential.

Sian Cunningham, marketing insights specialist for North America for Kerry (Beloit, WI), says that consumers are looking for new and exciting flavors that also bear a degree of authenticity. “The thirst for unexpected and provenance-inspired taste experiences continues to drive consumer interest in food and beverages,” Cunningham said in a company press release.

As consumer tastes become more sophisticated, keeping up with flavor trends and creating innovative new flavors will be important tasks for sports nutrition brands looking to grow. Here are some of the dominant and growing flavor trends in sports products on which brands can capitalize.


Mediterranean Flavors Lead in BCAA Drinks

Flavor experts are predicting that 2020 will see the rise of Mediterranean-inspired flavors in sports nutrition products. Alexandre Massumoto, marketing associate for Synergy Flavors (Wauconda, IL), says that the fresh fruits, cheeses, nuts, and sweet treats native to the Mediterranean region are inspiring a variety of new product flavors in sports products and ready-to-eat meals. While the Mediterranean will be a major influence on flavor trends, desire for more exotic flavors is also resulting in flavor launches inspired by other parts of the world.

“Regions such as Italy, Spain, and France have traditionally been viewed as culinary hotbeds, and flavors from these regions are now making their way into sports nutrition products,” Massumoto says. “We’re also seeing an increase in product launches of less mainstream cuisines like Turkish, Lebanese, and Egyptian, creating a great opportunity for flavor innovation using ingredients and known desserts as reference.”

Synergy Flavors expects these ingredients to be popular in a variety of workout applications. Some of the most common formats for these flavors will include whey protein and BCAA beverages, as well as plant-based protein bars, Synergy Flavors said in a press release.1


Baklava Hits the Power Bar Scene

Massumoto says that one Mediterranean flavor in particular is going to perform particularly well in sports nutrition. Baklava is an iconic Mediterranean dessert thought to have originated before the rise of the Byzantine Empire. This sweet-tasting pastry is made with alternating layers of chopped nuts and thin, unleavened dough soaked in honey or rosewater. According to Synergy Flavors’ research, baklava will be a hit flavor in sports bars.

“Baklava is one of the most iconic desserts from the Mediterranean, but it has yet to reach its full potential elsewhere,” Massumoto says.

Synergy Flavors expects baklava to enter the mainstream quickly, citing social media and growing interest in the Mediterranean diet as factors that will spark the flavor’s growth. Data provided by Synergy Flavors indicates that baklava as a dessert flavor is growing rapidly, with product launches incorporating baklava flavoring into plant-based power bars.


Carob and Rum Raisin Poised to Enter Mainstream

Massumoto says that other niche flavors that have proven popular in small circles are now set to break through to mainstream sports product consumers.

While rum raisin has been a common dessert flavor in ice cream and gelato since at least the 1980s, Synergy Flavors is predicting that the flavor will soon enter mainstream sports nutrition products. Flavors like carob and forest honey are also expected to break through in the sports vertical in the form of food products, offering consumers a more unique or intense taste than chocolate and flower honey, respectively. Carob has a naturally sweet and mildly nutty taste, and is slightly sweeter than unsweetened cocoa. While it doesn’t taste exactly like chocolate, carob’s unique taste profile may offer consumers a novelty experience. Both carob and rum raisin will start showing up in protein powders, while carob will also likely emerge in bar form.


Dessert Flavors Move Beyond the Cinnamon Bun

When the first cinnamon bun–flavored sports product hit the market, it represented a taste revolution. After years of sports products leveraging chocolate as the dominant flavor, cinnamon bun flavoring was innovative and new. Megan Byrnes, marketing manager for Gold Coast Ingredients (Commerce, CA), says that now, sports product companies are adding layers of complexity to cinnamon that leverage a tried-and-true taste while also bringing a novelty element to entice consumers.

“Years ago, cinnamon bun flavor was the hot new thing,” Byrnes says. “While it has since become a classic flavor in the nutraceutical industry, emerging dessert flavors like snickerdoodle, churro, and horchata maintain a cinnamon-like profile while also helping companies differentiate their products.”

Byrnes predicts that future dessert flavors will continue to see cinnamon evolve and even merge with other flavors. She expects brands to experiment with flavors like chocolate-churro and cinnamon latte. Some brands, like RSP Nutrition (Miami Gardens, FL), are already using churro flavoring in sports protein powders. Dessert flavors vary from fresh and fruity to sweet and indulgent, Byrnes says, giving brands more opportunities to innovate.

“One flavor that we foresee emerging is ruby chocolate,” Byrnes notes. “It’s chocolate that is pink in color and is made from ruby cocoa beans. Ruby chocolate has emerged in the confectionery industry, so we might be seeing more pink-colored sports products that are ruby chocolate flavor rather than the expected strawberry or raspberry flavor.”


Functionality Inspires New Flavors

As sports products continue to improve their formulations and gain more functionality, flavors are evolving to match the core ingredients found in these functional products. Philip Caputo, marketing and consumer insights manager for Virginia Dare (Brooklyn, NY), says that sports nutrition’s expansion into the holistic health space is creating an intersection between flavor and function as wellness-oriented products gain popularity.

“As consumers seek out ingredients that promote cellular repair, naturally ease symptoms, or support various body functions, a linking for the inherent flavors of those ingredients typically follows,” Caputo explains. “[That’s why] the popularity of turmeric, matcha, açaì, and ginger (flavors) will continue. Florals, spices, and many botanicals also fall into this category.”

Moreover, flavor trends appear to be specific to product kinds. Caputo says that Virginia Dare has identified specific flavor groups that are popular with pre-workout, intra-workout, and recovery products, with functionality determining the ideal flavor for a given product.

“For pre-workout products, consumers gravitate to refreshing and energizing flavors with citrus and fruity notes,” he says. “Top generic profiles are fruit punch, watermelon, and lemonade. But the candy profiles, while relatively new, are quickly becoming a dominant category.”

Candy has a positive association with childhood and can evoke a positive mood state, Caputo says, which is just the motivation that people want before a workout. Intra-workout products, meanwhile, tend to have refreshing and non-clawing flavors like coconut or sea salt. For post-workout recovery products, though, the emphasis shifts to dessert-oriented tastes.

“Emerging flavor categories are sophisticated indulgences, elevated classics, and childhood-inspired desserts,” he says. “Cereal milk flavors are quickly emerging as the childhood-inspired favorites. Cinnamon toast cereal, apple cinnamon cereal, and marshmallow cereal are just a few that are growing.”

Caputo also notes that fermented and sour flavors will have a bright future in products associated with gut health. He says that as brands begin to experiment with flavors, consumers will base their purchases on certain functional aspects. Matching flavor to function, then, will be an important practice for sports brands.


Sports Consumers Demand Diverse Flavors

A rapidly growing interest in foreign flavors is creating new opportunities for sports brands. Consumers are looking for novelty and will eagerly try emerging new flavors from regions like Europe and the Mediterranean, as well as unique new takes on established dessert flavors. While flavors like fig and carob are on the cusp of entering the mainstream, there is a growing opportunity to engage early-adopter consumers with niche flavors like baklava and gianduja. Brands can capitalize on these emerging trends by appealing to influencers and promoting new flavors as an opportunity for a novelty experience.


  1. Synergy Flavors website. “Synergy Flavors looks to the Mediterranean for sports nutrition’s flavors of the future.” Published online November 21, 2019.
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