There’s only so much time on the clock. You need to perform. You need to concentrate. Your body needs to respond. You need more energy and endurance. And afterward—you need to recover. For all these reasons, you need the right foods and drinks to keep the body fueled up and replenished. 

Of course, it’s for these reasons that food and beverage formulators have created generations of sports performance, energy and recovery products—all for athletes and body builders. Then again, a new generation of weekend warriors, Millennials and active Baby Boomers are turning to the same products to help them with their more active lifestyles. 

And interestingly, new research suggests these products are becoming even more popular as meal replacers, snacks and aides—simply to help everyday consumers get through each day.  Mintel, a global new products tracker and consumer insights researcher, recently covered sports performance and energy drinks in a series of reports. Prepared Foods finds similar trends fueling new product development on the food side as well, particularly involving bar products.

Everyone, Everyday

Thanks to the evolving dietary habits of on-the-go consumers and positive functional attributes, nutritional and performance drinks are becoming an increasingly popular meal option, says Mintel.

With one-third (35%) of Americans agreeing that they do not take care of themselves as well as they should because of their busy lifestyle, Mintel says its research reveals that 39% of consumers use nutritional and performance drinks as a replacement for breakfast. What’s more, three in five (58%) consumers currently use nutritional and performance drinks as a meal replacement and 48% consume them as part of a meal, up from just 20% who used nutritional drinks as a meal supplement in 2012. 

In addition to seven in 10 (69%) consumers agreeing that nutritional and performance drinks are a more effective source of nutrients, the majority of consumers agree that they are more convenient (79%) than whole foods (eg fruits, nuts, grains). With consumers viewing their efficacy favorably, it’s no wonder that 40% are consuming nutritional and performance drinks before, during or after exercising. These drinks are also carving out their share of the snacking category as 80% of consumers view these beverages as a great guilt-free snack.

“Nutritional and performance drinks are the apex of convenience for the modern American lifestyle and diet, as consumers are moving away from three meals per day and are snacking more often.”

Overall, nine in 10 (88%) consumers agree that nutritional and performance drinks help them maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“The functional aspect of nutritional and performance drinks sets them apart from other drink categories at a time when consumers are looking for products that contribute to a healthy lifestyle,” says Beth Bloom, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel. “Nutritional and performance drinks are the apex of convenience for the modern American lifestyle and diet, as consumers are moving away from three meals per day and are snacking more often. These beverages deliver on convenience, affordability and efficacy, a trio of positive advantages that appeal to today’s on-the-go consumers that are simply too busy to eat a sit-down breakfast at home.”

 Driven by their favorable functional attributes, nutritional drinks and performance drinks are gaining a larger market share of the overall category, which also includes sports drinks and weight loss drinks. From 2010-2015, performance drinks experienced 86% sales growth, while nutritional drinks saw 67% growth. The overall market grew 38%, reaching $13 billion in 2015.

While sports drink sales grew 22% from 2010-2015, weight loss drinks experienced stunted growth (5%) caused by shifts in consumer dieting habits. What’s more, just 12% of consumers purchase weight loss drinks in comparison to the 32% of Americans who buy nutritional drinks.

“General diet trends are favoring functional attributes, and we’re seeing this play out in the success of the nutritional and performance drinks category. This is further highlighted by stalled growth of weight loss drinks, which are often promoted with claims such as low-calorie or reduced sugar,” says Bloom. “Weight-loss brands should move away from ‘less bad for you’ positioning and instead highlight the ‘better-for-you’ functional benefits of replacing meals with their products, as a large amount of weight-loss drink buyers use them as meal replacements.”

Despite being viewed favorably by consumers, other drink categories pose a threat to nutritional and performance drinks’ success. According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD), from March 2015 to February 2016, 34% of energy drink launches in the US featured a functional claim. Over that same span, functional positioning has also been utilized in new product launches of juice/juice drinks (24%), water (17%) and coffee/tea (16 %).

Overall, when purchasing nutritional and performance drinks, the most important factors for US consumers are favorite flavor (41%), amount of protein (40%) and high fiber (33%).

“Products across beverage categories have caught on to the value of functional positioning, which challenges nutritional and performance drinks at their own game. In order to stay ahead of the competition, nutritional and performance drink brands should prioritize promoting and substantiating efficacy. Brands could also secure more natural positioning by featuring competing categories’ whole foods—such as 100% juice, coffee and tea—as ingredients,” concludes Bloom.

No Energy Shortage

Just as new records were set in the 2016 Olympic Games, new research from Mintel reveals standout results for global energy drink innovation. According to Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD), more energy drinks were launched globally in 2015 than in any year since 2008, with the number of energy drink products launched growing 29% between 2010 and 2015. 

While energy drink launches around the world have seen a new lease on life, Mintel research reveals that when it comes to innovation, the US is no longer king. Indeed, Germany recorded the highest share of new energy drink product launches in 2015, overtaking the US for the first time. Some 9% of global energy drink launches occurred in Germany in 2015, as opposed to 8% in the US. In comparison, Germany experienced just 6% of global new energy drink product launches in 2014, while 10% of global launches took place in the US.

It’s not just energy drink innovation that is booming, as volume sales are also soaring. In 2015, the global market for energy drinks rose by an energetic 10% to reach an unstoppable 8.8 billion liters. Around the world, the top five energy drinks markets in terms of volume sales are the US (3.3 billion liters), China (1.4 billion liters), the UK (561 million liters), Thailand (465 million liters) and Vietnam (351 million liters). Additionally, volume sales in Germany reached 328 million liters, with Austria (79 million liters) and Switzerland (58 million liters) following further behind.

In terms of volume growth, China experienced the greatest increase between 2014 and 2015, rising by an exhilarating 25%, followed by Thailand which experienced a rise of 19%.

“Energy drinks remain the controversial, yet undeniably successful, wild child of the soft drinks family. The primary driver of global growth remains the drinks’ capacity to provide consumers with a quick and effective energy boost – something which resonates with consumers the world over,” says Alex Beckett, a global food and drink analyst at Mintel. “Energy drinks are benefitting from being championed by giant brands, which devote huge investment to advertising and high profile marketing initiatives to project an exciting and edgy image. However, in less developed regions, local energy drink brands are emerging and gaining distribution as a more affordable alternative to multinationals, adding pressure for major players to project a brand identity that consumers from New York to Beijing want to be associated with, and pay more for.”

Some 7% of energy drinks launched globally in 2015 carried an organic claim, up from 4% in 2011.

On a natural note, Mintel research indicates that introductions bearing an organic claim have reached a record high. Some 7% of energy drinks launched globally in 2015 carried an organic claim, up from 4% in 2011. And organic innovation shows few signs of slowing down: so far in 2016, as many as 6% of global launches have carried an organic claim, with Europe leading the way. Three in five (58%) organic energy drink products launched globally in 2016 have taken place in Europe, compared to two in five (39%) in North America and just 3% in Latin America. 

The rise in organic launches comes as consumers show strong interest in more natural energy drinks. Indeed, one in four (26%) US consumers say they would be more comfortable drinking energy drinks or shots made with all-natural ingredients. In China, two in five (40%) consumers say they’d be encouraged to buy a sports or energy drink product made from natural ingredients. Furthermore, over half of consumers in Poland (61%), Spain (54%), Italy (54%) and Germany (53%) say they would like to see a wider variety of sports and energy drinks made with natural colorings and flavors.

“The rise in global organic energy drink offerings illustrates how the sector is attempting to appeal to a broader audience by conveying a more natural image. For the foreseeable future, brands will remain under pressure to reformulate with better-for-you ingredients,” adds Beckett.

Finally, Mintel research reveals that parents are emerging as a valuable audience for energy drinks. In the US, while on average 12% of consumers drink energy drinks, this rises to over one-quarter (26%) of those with children aged five and under and 32% of those with 6- to 11-year olds. In Germany, one-third (33%) of adults drank a branded energy drink in 2015, rising to over two in five (44%) of those with kids under 21 in the household. Meanwhile, in the UK, three in five (58%) parents with children aged five and under drink energy drinks, up from an average of 35%.

“Often exhausted and needing to be on the go pretty much constantly, young parents are emerging as a valuable user group for energy drink brands around the world. Although they are not the traditional target audience of 18-24s, which typically feature in marketing campaigns, young parents and older Millennials in general are the primary energy drink consumers,” concludes Beckett.

Chew on This

Pardon the play on words but there’s plenty of energy in the bar products market—with companies and brands, large and small, angling for a bite of potential sales. 

Last year was fascinating, in part, simply because companies invested and re-energized some well-known older brands with new products, packaging, marketing and more. One of those drivers has been Premier Nutrition Corp. the Emeryville, Calif., maker of PowerBar. Premier Nutrition got off to a strong start last spring with a complete relaunch of the brand, packaging and promotions. In conjunction, it introduced a protein shake; reduced sugar protein bars; and a new Simple Fruit Energy Food, a real fruit puree merchandised near sports gels.

PowerBar’s new Reduced Sugar ProteinPlus 20g bars feature 20g of protein, 3g of sugar and 200 calories. They debuted in Lemon Poppy Seed and Chocolate Peanut Butter flavors. PowerBar Simple Fruit Energy Food are gel purees in Apple Mixed Berry, Apple Pear Raspberry, and Apple Orange Lemon varieties. Each contains 100 calories and PowerBar says they feature a “MAXENERGY” 2:1 glucose to fructose blend to deliver 20-50% more energy to muscles than glucose alone and improve endurance performance by 8%.

PowerBar came back in August with Clean Whey Protein Bars and Clean Whey Protein Drinks. The items feature no artificial sweeteners, 2g of sugar, and whey protein for sustained energy. Bars feature stevia as a no calorie sweetener and they come in Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Cookies and Cream, and White Fudge Raspberry flavors. PowerBar Clean Whey Protein Drinks deliver 15g of whey protein, 0g sugar, and 70 calories with just seven ingredients. They are available in Berry Pomegranate and Fruit Punch flavors.

“Clean foods have risen in popularity over the years as consumers have become more health conscious and savvy regarding how to power their bodies both on and off the field,” says Eric Zaltas, vice president of R&D at Premier Nutrition. “PowerBar Clean Whey protein bars and drinks are on trend with the movement toward removing artificial sweeteners, colors and flavors from foods and utilizing high quality proteins, like the whey protein we use in the Clean Whey product line.”

Riding another popular trend—nut butters—has been Clif Bar & Company, also based in Emeryville. For the record, Clif Bar already has a Builder’s Protein bar and a separate Athlete Series line, which includes energy “blok” chews, shot energy gels, a recovery protein drink and an electrolyte hydration drink. In 2015, Clif Bar added organic energy foods—on-the-go pouches of fruit and vegetable purees. 

More recently, Clif Bar has expanded its pouched energy foods line with two new flavors: Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal and Banana Maple Oatmeal. With growing demand for nut butters, Clif Bar last year created a new four-item line of organic energy bars with nut butter filling. The company writes, “CLIF Nut Butter Filled Energy Bar is a whole new kind of energy bar that is certified USDA organic and brings together two great energy sources—a delicious, creamy nut butter tucked inside an organic energy bar—to deliver sustained energy.” Varieties include Peanut Butter, Coconut Almond Butter, Chocolate Hazelnut Butter and Chocolate Peanut Butter.

To Mintel’s earlier point about a blurring of the lines between sports nutrition and weight management, last year saw diet specialist Medifast Inc., Owings Mills, Md., enter the sports nutrition market in a sponsorship with Rutgers University and The V Foundation for Cancer Research.  Medifast opened last year with the launch of Dual Fuel protein bars and ready-to-drink shakes.  Officials say new Dual Fuel Bars are made with a proprietary dual layer combination—one crispy and crunchy made with healthy whole grains; the other sweet and chewy, made with real peanut butter or cocoa—for the right combination of carbohydrates and protein to help meet energy needs and fuel recovery after exercise. 

These bars contain milk protein, and whey protein with no artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, or preservatives. Each bar delivers only 3g of sugar and 150 calories, compared to other leading national products that typically contain between 8g to 21g of sugar. The bars debuted in two flavors, Peanut Butter Fudge and Double Chocolate.

“With the launch of our new sports nutrition product line, we’re targeting athletes and the active lifestyle consumer,” said Michael MacDonald, Medifast chairman and CEO. “With the help of our partners, The V Foundation for Cancer Research and Rutgers University, we have created something particularly special.”

Still more interesting foods come from smaller companies outside the mainstream sports bar market. For example, last year brought several new unique options from Ku’l Foods LLC, Minneapolis, as well as R.e.d.d. Inc., Portland, Me.

Ku’l officials attended bike festival and races and observed cyclists and runners reaching for K’ul’s Saltsation bar after a race while sipping beverages. Interviews showed that these athletes wanted electrolytes and potassium in order to avoid muscle aches, spasms, and twitches. Those insights led to last year’s launch of the dark chocolate Electrobar, which contains 70% dark chocolate, dried bananas, evaporated coconut water, toasted coconut chips, and Cyprus sea salt totaling 375mg of potassium and electrolytes.

“We really wanted to create a bar that was not only delicious, but functional,” says Ku’l Founder Peter Kelsey. “All of the cacao beans we use are hand-selected by us for their quality and taste, and we handle every step of production to make sure the end product meets our high standards. Chocolate is more than just dessert, and developing this bar to help athletes replenish electrolytes and potassium while giving them high-quality chocolate to enjoy is a great way to show that.”

Straddling the energy and health sectors are new superfood energy bars from R.e.d.d. After debuting with a brownie and a Chocolate flavored bar, the company came back last year with $1 million in outside investment, growing sales distribution and two new varieties: Peanut Butter and Oatmeal. 

Part protein bar, part energy shot and part multi-vitamin, R.e.d.d. bars are certified gluten free, 100% vegan, 70% organic, low-glycemic and contain no dairy, soy, GMOs, refined sugars or anything artificial. R.e.d.d. ingredients include: 11 superfoods (including chia, acai, goji berry, mangosteen, maca, yerba maté and quinoa); 23 vitamins and minerals; and 9g to 10g of protein (varies by bar). Officials note yerba maté provides an energy boost with 35+ mg of clean caffeine, while the complex carb structure delivers energy continuously throughout the day (or night).

R.e.d.d. says each superfood bar is a “Meal Bridge” to provide a satisfying boost of nourishment between breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. Suggested retail for each 2oz to 2.2oz bar is $2.99 to $3.49.

Originally appeared in the January, 2017 issue of Prepared Foods as Everyday Athletes.

Muscle Maneuvers: Supporting Seniors

People today are living and enjoying life longer and by 2050, the US population over age 65 is projected to almost double to nearly 84 million. But as more than 60% of this group have two or more chronic conditions, staying healthy and active can be a challenge.

 Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Park, Ill., says it formulated new Ensure Enlive as complete, balanced nutrition drink in with 20g of protein and HMB (b-hydroxy b-methylbutyrate) to help rebuild lost muscle and regain strength and energy. Abbott cites research showing HMB works with protein to help protect and preserve muscles.

Ensure Enlive is available in Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry flavors. Each 8oz drink also contains plant-based Omega-3 ALA for heart health; 3g of prebiotic fiber to support the digestive tract; 120% of the daily value of vitamin D and 50% of the daily value of calcium to support strong bones; and antioxidants, such as vitamins C, E and selenium to support immune function.

Abbott says one of the main culprits for losing muscle mass may be surprising, as it is a condition often thought of as a distant issue: malnutrition. Malnutrition is when the body doesn’t get the proper nutrients to meet its daily needs. It can occur at any age, but is common in older adults. In fact, up to half of seniors who enter the hospital are at risk of malnutrition or already malnourished, and many don’t know it.

“We often hear about bone health and how our diet impacts it as we get older but when it comes to our muscles, people often write it off as a sign of getting older,” says Abby Sauer, MPH, RD, a registered dietitian at Abbott. “Getting the right amount of nutrients–especially protein and vitamin D–can help nourish your muscles for good health and support recovery from illness or surgery.”

In its own tests, Abbott says Ensure Enlive was shown to significantly improve health outcomes. In a  clinical study, NOURISH*, showed that the group of older malnourished adults in the hospital who consumed this nutrition drink twice a day had significantly improved nutritional status, body weight and vitamin D levels compared to a placebo supplement from hospital discharge through 90 days.

*NOURISH (Nutrition effect On Unplanned ReadmIssions and Survival in Hospitalized patients) study. The NOURISH study was a prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial conducted in the United States between May 2012 and October 2014 across 78 different U.S. hospitals and sites. Researchers evaluated the impact of Abbott’s specialized nutrition supplement with high protein, HMB and vitamin D compared to a placebo supplement on rates of death or readmissions 90 days after hospitalization.