Part one: COVID-19 drives sports nutrition personalization in crowded market
08 Apr 2020 --- COVID-19 is spurring the rapid personalization of sports nutrition as gyms around the world are increasingly shut and sporting gatherings are banned. This could provide an extra opportunity for companies to stand out from the crowd, which is crucial as the mainstreaming of sports nutrition has led to heightened competition within the sector. In this first part of NutritionInsight’s Special Report, key movers in the industry detail the “massive transformation” of what was once considered a niche category, and why differentiation has never been more important.
“Personalization has dropped itself on our doorstep in an unexpected way through the global COVID-19 pandemic. Exercise enthusiasts once dedicated to regular gym or group exercise have had to adjust to their own very personal techniques and routines. Both physical activity and active nutrition will likely be affected in ways that could impact the industry for the next few years, but those effects are yet to be determined,” says Niki Kennedy, Senior Strategic Insights & Analytics Manager, Glanbia Nutritionals.
The European Specialist Sport Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) has also spoken up about sports nutrition in the context of COVID-19. “It is natural and encouraging that sports nutrition consumers are looking for ways to supplement their diet and maintain active lifestyles. By taking the right sports nutrition products, combined with a healthy diet and exercise, you can successfully maintain a healthy lifestyle, which may help to strengthen your immune system.”
However, the organization notes that some companies and individuals in the sector are making unfounded claims about their products, which is very likely to be non-compliant with the law. Across the Atlantic, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is continuing to warn businesses for selling products claiming to prevent or treat COVID-19.
Regardless of the current tumultuous economic conditions resulting from the pandemic, sports nutrition has seen major growth in recent years. However, an important difference is arising within the sector, according to Elsa Trotier, Product Manager for Nutrition at Ingredia. “We can differentiate between sports nutrition – which is used to improve athletic performance, and active or lifestyle nutrition – which is used with the primary objective of staying fit or active,” she explains.
This nuance within the category is a result of its massive mainstreaming. “The industry has changed in a number of ways. Some decades ago, the sports nutrition sector mainly targeted bodybuilders and sports professionals. However, today, a wider range of consumers are focusing on the importance of being fit and healthy. From amateur sportspeople and weekend warriors to healthy agers, many people seek targeted nutritional supplementation for support before, during or after a workout, and to help support an active lifestyle,” states Andie Long, Marketing & Sales Manager of AstaReal.
“Recent years have seen a massive transformation of the consumer base and a shift from the niche to the mainstream. Sports nutrition products used to be targeted at serious athletes, sportsmen and women and bodybuilders, but as the category has grown it has attracted more casual consumers. Many of them may not take part in much – or any – sport, but they see products like protein drinks and bars as a quick and easy way to improve their health or provide satiety on-the-go,” chimes in Joe Katterfield, Sales Development Manager for Sports Nutrition and Health Foods, Arla Foods Ingredients.
As a result of the rising popularity of sports nutrition and years of strong growth, the sector is increasingly competitive, according to Katterfield. He adds that this results in greater choice, with companies being forced to become more innovative. This sentiment is reflected by Elsa Trotier, Product Manager Nutrition of Ingredia. She notes that the sector is very competitive with numerous actors.
“It also includes a range of different offerings, including ready-to-drink (RTD) products, bars, bars, gels and powders. There are more women practicing sports and more recreational athletes and more seniors who want to stay healthy during the aging process and avoid sarcopenia. These new active people and recreational athletes turn more and more toward fitness and endurance sports, such as triathlons and trail running,” she states.
Lucie Lingrand, Product Manager of Marketing and Communications at Lallemand Health Solutions, divides active people into three categories. The first – core performers – train five to seven times per week and represent 36 percent of the market. Next, active athletes represent 21 percent of the market and train three to four times a week. Lastly, occasional users represent 25 percent of the market and train one to two times a week.
“Occasional users are moderately active people. They perceive sport as a leisure activity and so they have limited knowledge and interest in dietary food supplements and sports nutrition. They are driven by price, convenience and availability, therefore are not brand-loyal.”
Meanwhile, active athletes participate in competitions and do possess good knowledge and show interest about dietary food supplements and sports nutrition. They are driven by convenience, flavor, branding and packaging. They like to try and test different products and are influenced by their teammates and idols, therefore are not very brand-loyal, she explains.
Finally, the core performers are early adopters and trendsetters whom the active athletes look up to and follow. “Extremely active people, they exercise more than ten hours per week. They are, of course, fully committed to dietary food supplements and sports nutrition. They are also driven by specialized products with scientifically backed claims. Once they find the perfect product to fit their needs, they are exceptionally brand loyal and become major customers,” notes Lingrand.
Personalization blazes ahead
Kennedy of Glanbia notes that the diversification of sports nutrition consumers has brought forth new ingredients. “In the beginning, a handful of key ingredients, for the most part, fulfilled the needs of the consumers’ active in this category. However, as the category has expanded and the needs of consumers multiplied, we are seeing a major shift in consumers focusing on macro-ingredients and moving toward micro-ingredients. These help offer that general sense of well-being but also bring different benefits like endurance, sleep, joint health and mental performance.”
Long of Astareal adds that consumers are no longer just looking to build muscle. “There is much more of an interest in supporting several areas at once, for example energy, focus, performance and recovery. This is a more holistic way of looking at sports nutrition.”
Looking ahead, Kennedy also expects that personalization will continue to grow. “This involves taking the traditional key aspects of sports nutrition and supplementing them to fill in more niche benefit gaps. For example, a pre-workout product supplemented with collagen for joint health while also delivering a skin health benefit that many lifestyle consumers seek.”
Victoire Visseaux, Technical Sales & Marketing Manager at Lactalis Ingredients, also highlights the importance of personalization. “Customization is the next craze, where consumers can have a product developed just for their needs and goals. On this note, it is leading to the segmentation of offerings and in-depth categories, which are being created. One example is the intensity of activity for the dedicated active consumer versus the casual consumer. We can also split up demographics, with emerging categories including male, female, teens and healthy aging,” she concludes.
Other key themes in sports nutrition include a splintered target market, with regionality emerging as a key consideration. Additionally, ingredient quality is more important than ever before – both in the stalwart of protein, as well as emerging ingredient astaxanthin, as detailed in part two of NutritionInsight’s coverage.
By Katherine Durrell
To contact our editorial team please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Subscribe now to receive the latest news directly into your inbox.