Beyond high-protein: Active nutrition taps into gut health, precision fermentation, esports and tech
02 Feb 2023 --- The transformation of well-being as a pure reflection of exterior looks to gut health, mental health and personal nutrition are all areas becoming more and more present in the active nutrition arena.
NutritionInsight speaks with experts at Fonterra, Lonza, FrieslandCampina and ADM about how these trends have emerged, the ingredients claiming the spotlight and what the industry’s future holds.
“It is no secret the pandemic has profoundly affected how we live, move and behave. More sedentary lifestyles caused by widespread lockdowns led to weight gain and joint stiffness for some – the result of reduced activity levels and gym closures,” says Lindsey Toth, director of Global Marketing at Lonza Capsules & Health Ingredients.
“Conversely, others dedicated more time to getting healthier than ever before, working toward new physical and mental well-being goals.”
Feeling good, inside out
Mike Bones, MD of Europe at Fonterra, points to holistic well-being being a “sweeping demand.”
“Consumers recognize the interconnectedness of physical, mental and emotional well-being, and look to manage health holistically. They also believe that prevention is better than cure and are adopting a proactive approach to health management,” he says.
Bones further details that 96% of consumers actively undertake actions to manage their health. “Most consumers want to improve their well-being via active nutrition, and 88% of consumers feel that it is important to eat a well-balanced diet to prevent major illnesses.”
Feeling good from within is a recurring theme among the industry players. June Lin, global VP of marketing, health & wellness at ADM, says that, apart from high-protein products, digestive health, immune function, body composition and other factors targeting metabolic health are in high demand for active nutrition consumers.
“Moreover, signaling ingredients like some botanicals can contribute to positive eating experiences and create a link to positive emotions and feelings. Botanicals can make active nutrition offerings more appealing for consumers, as many associate them as natural and with various wellness attributes, including immune function, digestive health, stress and more, depending on the specific botanical ingredient,” Lin explains.
Broadening of ingredients
Bones further details that active nutrition has historically focused on physical performance and products packed with dairy protein. However, he notes that the protein supplement market is now very saturated, and brands should be looking to differentiate protein-based products with additional benefits and fresh ingredients.
“A big part of active nutrition is also making sure the brain and body are in harmony, so we see brain-fueling ingredients such as our phospholipids and probiotics incorporated into solutions that seek to nourish the mind and fuel the body,” he adds.
Toth also emphasizes the increased demand for probiotics while adding that joint health is an area of future growth and says that collagen is an ingredient in the spotlight.
“Multiple products are being launched in the active nutrition space, some more than others, such as biotics. Given the rising popularity of probiotics and expanded product innovation, it is more important than ever for brands to use credible, clinically-studied, branded ingredients,” Bones underscores.
Lin adds that ingredients that provide isotonic properties, such as hydration and a variety of vitamins, minerals and functional ingredients are also “coming into play.”
She says that in addition to providing isotonic properties and hydration, performance beverage offerings are also highly sought after for recovery and performance benefits and attributes related to mood.
“Plus, ingredients like beta-alanine and l-carnitine are incorporated into energy drinks and pre-workout offerings for their perceived associations with endurance, muscle building and cognitive function. Our research shows that product labels that reference electrolytes are the most sought-out claim by younger consumers,” she notes.
This is because electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, and protein can work together to elevate performance offerings further to support various active nutrition consumers’ goals.
“They also work well with botanicals and gut microbiome-supporting solutions, offering highly appealing characteristics to consumers, including support for digestive and immune function, metabolic health, energy, recovery and more,” adds Lin.
Forecasting the industry
Bones says that as consumers’ understanding of the role nutrition plays in managing well-being is increasing, there is still a struggle to manage their diet the way they would like to.
“This suggests that existing products are not effectively meeting their needs. Coupled with determination and interest in holistic well-being and an openness to ingredients and formats, there is a white space opportunity for brands to start delivering accessible and convenient nutrition solutions, such as ready-to-drink beverages.”
“We should see brands appeal to multiple concerns across holistic health while making whole nutrition convenient and tasty with portable formats for nutrition on the go, such as ready-to-drink beverages and bars,” Bones details.
Lin adds that consumers are becoming increasingly conscientious about earth-friendly production and trust and traceability as they seek out good offerings for themselves, their communities, and the planet.
“This trend permeates into the active nutrition space, with many consumers paying more attention to specialized ingredients that may be incorporated into certain sports and performance offerings. Plus, research shows that over half of active nutrition shoppers say that most nutrition and performance drinks contain too many artificial ingredients, signifying athletes and average consumers alike are drawn to products that display clean labels.”
“Many consumers also state that simple, recognizable ingredients impact their purchasing decisions and that they were more likely drawn to familiar ingredients that they deem to be ‘closer-to-nature,’ as well as have transparent sourcing,” Lin says.
Lin further details that, shortly, ADM anticipates bringing more targeted personalized nutrition options for children to market.
“New products hitting the market are focusing on the formats, flavors, and colors that appeal to young athletes and help support the everyday lifestyles of active children. However, there is room and demand for innovation. Specifically, as parents become more aware of supporting their microbiomes, they will look for products that do the same for their kids.”
Lin adds that products packed with plant protein blends and functional ingredients like probiotics and prebiotic fiber are in the industry’s future.
Vicky Davies, global MD of Performance, Active & Medical Nutrition at FrieslandCampina, adds that the active nutrition boom results from consumers taking a more holistic, proactive approach to their overall health.
“Brands can tap into this desire for holistic wellness by formulating with multiple, complementary ingredients – ushering in the next big evolution of the active nutrition market. Two in three consumers recognize that gut health is key to achieving overall well-being, and scientists agree. Research is uncovering the important role of the gut microbiome in supporting multiple health areas at once, from digestive health to mental well-being,” details Davies.
She explains that recent research has suggested that a healthy gut can even support muscle strength in athletes, known as the gut-muscle axis.
Stepping into esports and gut health
Toth also emphasizes that gut health has been high on the consumer agenda for some time, and this shows no sign of slowing down in 2023 and beyond.
“As scientific understanding unlocks newly understood benefits of gut health, including how it benefits sports and exercise performance, we will likely see a drive forward in consumer demand and further innovation in the space.
Further detailing that the esports nutrition market is also emerging as “a highly promising off-shoot of the traditional active nutrition space,” Toth says that this market shows significant promise.
“Just as with traditional sports, esports athletes work hard to reach peak physical and mental performance. Meaning that there’s a new, fast-growing group of consumers seeking support to reach their gaming goals, and innovation in this space will certainly drive the industry forward in coming years,” she adds.
Technology supporting nutrition
Davies details that technology provides brands with opportunities in the active nutrition sector – mainly as consumers use tech to support an active lifestyle.
“Wearables such as smartwatches are trendy for this reason. They may even make consumers more active – research by the University of Sydney found that people using activity trackers and mobile apps increased their step count by around 2,000 steps per day.”
Davies says that given their natural alignment, we may see technology and nutrition intersect. For example, apps that help users track their food or keep on top of their supplements.
“Looking specifically at ingredients, new technologies such as precision fermentation are also opening up avenues for innovation that supports healthy, active lifestyles. Adding proteins derived from precision fermentation alongside existing dairy and plant proteins will enable companies to sustainably provide a broader range of healthy protein sources to support our growing population.
Davies concludes that FrieslandCampina has recently partnered with specialist biotechnology company Triplebar to develop and scale up the production of cell-based proteins using precision fermentation.
By Beatrice Wihlander
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