Want an example of a food and beverage category flexing its muscle in retail market? Global new product development and launch activity in sports nutrition has risen during the past three years or so.

This is because the market now enjoys wider appeal. Whereas sports performance and nutrition products once targeted those consumers in strength and endurance sports, Innova Market Insights finds there’s greater mainstream demand. There’s simply more interest today from everyday, recreational athletes, exercisers and general consumers pursuing more active lifestyles.

All of these consumers are looking to improve nutritional intake and/or some aspects of health, wellbeing, performance, muscle growth and recovery from exercise. Of course, the sports nutrition market also is growing because of rising product distribution in mainstream outlets in all major markets. Previously, many products were relegated to sales through specialist health outlets (such as GNC) gyms and health clubs.

By far, the US has the world’s most developed sports nutrition products market. It dominates in terms of sales value and also accounts for more than one-quarter of global launches recorded by Innova Market Insights during 2017. This is a very large share for just one country.

Interestingly, however, US activity has fallen from five years ago, in 2012, when it accounted for nearly 50% of all global sports nutrition product launches. Meanwhile, levels of interest in these items have risen in other parts of the world, particularly Europe, which has seen launch numbers more than double to take a leading share of 46%.

The maturity of the market in the US is also reflected in NPD levels. What was once a steady growth line has since settled into more of a static pattern. Nevertheless, this market continues to develop with ongoing segmentation, its continued mainstream shift and its embrace of more widespread food trends such as clean label, “free from” and the rise in plant-based proteins.

There are six main subcategories within sports nutrition. Innova Market Insights finds that—despite rising levels of interest in ready-to-use products for more convenient, on-the-go solutions—traditional sports powders continue to dominate new product development, accounting for 50% of the global total of new sports-related items tracked.  This is ahead of bars (15%), “other sports products” (12%), supplements (11%), RTD sports drinks (7%) and protein drinks (5%).

Interestingly—but perhaps not surprisingly—the US market picture is slightly different in terms of new product development within the subcategories. Overall, the US market has seen relatively strong levels of new product development (in comparison with the global figure)—particularly in the established sports powders and sports supplements subcategories. By comparison, Western Europe for example, seems to favor more convenient options for on-the-go consumption, with higher than average shares for sports bars and other sports products (gels, chews etc.).


Protein Power

Sports nutrition product formulators focus on protein content and this interest only has increased during the past few years. That much is evident from new product package claims. Innova Market Insights found that during 2017, more than 42% of US new sports product introductions referred to either added protein, high protein content and/or source of protein.

These claims continue to be largely concentrated in the dominant sports powders subcategory, which accounted for about half of the 2017 total. However, when it comes to market penetration, it is the newer, less developed RTD protein sports drinks subcategory that leads with virtually all launches using some type of protein positioning. Drinks even rank ahead of sports bars, where protein claim information is found on more than 90% of launches.

Again, to put the overall US market in perspective, launch numbers for RTD protein sports drinks remain very limited in comparison with some other sports nutrition subcategories. These beverages accounted for less than 4% of sports-related launches in 2017, although numbers have risen strongly in recent years. Looking at recent launch activity, it is interesting to note how new RTD items are adding appeal by using other on-trend references and claims—in addition to protein benefits.

Key brands such as Muscle Milk (Cytosport/Hormel) now offers organic options. The brand also extended its line to include a smoothie option made with Greek-style yogurt. Elsewhere, Powerful Yogurt LLC, Miami, extended its yogurt protein drink with a Mocha Double Espresso variety. It delivers an on-trend coffee flavor experience as well as energy enhancement from caffeine. Abbott Laboratories also launched a coffee variety in its line of EAS Advant Edge Carb Control Protein Shakes. The new shake features cold brew coffee flavor in a low-carb, reduced calorie, sugar-free format.

Protein-enhanced waters also are popular. This year started with trimino Brands Company, LLC, Branford, Conn., introducing trimino Protein Infused Water in flavors such as Raspberry Limeade, Citrus and Orchard. Last year brought similar new items from Protein2o. This Elk Grove Village, Ill., company introduced protein waters in exotic and “superfruit”-style flavors such as Açai, Blueberry & Pomegranate, Dragonfruit Blackberry and Kawaiola Coconut. There also has been some activity in water enhancers. BPI Sports Inc., Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., offers four varieties: Best Energy, Best Aminos, Garcinia and Carnitine.

Of course, one of the most interesting market developments simply involves alternative protein sources. Whereas whey and other dairy proteins traditionally dominated the market, there’s a new generation of finished items featuring plant-based proteins.

This trend is apparent across food and drinks as a whole, with sports nutrition as no exception. While 7% of all food and drinks launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in 2017 used a vegan positioning, this rose to 11% in sports nutrition. More than half of these products were sports powders. Recent launches include Raw Organic Plant protein Powders from Garden of Life, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.; and Now Sports Organic Plant Protein Powders from Now Foods, Bloomingdale, Ill.

22 Days Nutrition (Co.Exist Nutrition LLC), Miami, also has launched a number of sports bars with vegan claims—and the company factored into the 11% of all US sports bar launches in 2017 with vegan claims. 22 Days Nutrition bars are positioned as suitable for pre- and post-workout snacks and as meal replacements. Bars come in indulgent confectionery-style flavors such as Salted Caramel, Chunky Peanut Butter, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip and Fudge Brownie.

Another interesting launch in 2017 involved Pegan Protein Bars from Julian Bakery Inc., Oceanside, Calif. The bars carry a joint paleo and vegan positioning as well as gluten-free and non-GMO claims. Hammer Nutrition, Whitefish, Mon., also introduced Vegan Protein bars (Almond Cacao, Chocolate Peanut), although its Raw Energy line also carries vegan certification.


Liquid Fuel

The rise of the sports and performance drinks market was probably the first indication of a move mainstream for sports nutrition products. The RTD sports drinks market is relatively long established in the US in particular, and is worth about US$6.5 billion a year through multiple retailers alone (according to IRI data). It is dominated by the major soft drinks companies with PepsiCo’s Gatorade and Coca-Cola’s  Powerade.

BA Sports Nutrition LLC, Whitestone, N.Y., has emerged as a competitor. In 2011 it launched BodyArmor Superdrink and in 2017, its brand ranked among the top 10 aseptic sports drinks distributed through multiple retailers. BodyArmor drinks are marketed as high in potassium electrolytes. They also feature natural flavors and sweeteners and contain coconut water as an added selling point. The original drink comes in a changing range of flavors and has now been joined by a Sportwater option and a Lyte variety with just 20 calories per bottle.

Sports drinks companies have continued to compete and drive the market forward with ongoing new product activity, focusing on developing more targeted products and offering a range of flavors and formats (often with limited editions). Lite options also have been a major focus of activity in the wake of obesity and sugar consumption concerns. Drinks also now compete with a new breed of so-called “zero” products (calorie- and sugar-free) cropping up everywhere.

Launch numbers remain limited in comparison with some other parts of the market, perhaps reflecting the relatively lack of innovation opportunities. Ready-to-drink sports drinks accounted for just 8% of US sports nutrition launches in 2017, ahead of the smaller and newer protein sports drinks sub-category, which accounted for 3.8% of sports nutrition launches.

One of the most high-profile launches in 2017 was Celsius Heat, an extension of the Celsius performance brand. Like Celsius, it is a dietary supplement drink with the proprietary thermogenic MetaPlus formula, reported to accelerate metabolism, boost energy and burn body fat when combined with exercise. It is marketed as a “trainer-grade” product, for more serious fitness consumers, trainers, athletes and military personnel who want to take their training to the next level.

Initially launched in March 2017, Celsius Heat has surpassed its sales goals, generating retail sales of more than $2 million in its first nine months. The range was extended in early 2018 with two new flavors: Orangesicle and Apple Jack’d. They joined the existing line with varieties such as Inferno Punch, Blueberry Pomegranate, Cherry Lime, Strawberry Dragonfruit and Tangerine Grapefruit.

The US market also leads in the area of sports supplement interest and product development. Supplements accounted for just under 13% of US sports nutrition launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in 2017. This was down slightly on the 14.2% share in 2016, but still ahead of the global figure of just under 11%.

This probably reflects the traditionally high level of interest in dietary supplements in the US in general. Traditional capsules and tablets are increasingly being joined by chew and gummy formats for ease of consumption; as well as some liquid products, both concentrated and ready-to-drink. Key ingredients used include specific amino acids and amino acid blends, vitamins and minerals and omega-3 fatty acids.

In general, the sports nutrition products sector continues to develop and diversify. A growing range of products now appeals not only to athletes and body builders but a wider range of more mainstream consumers who seek more active and healthy lifestyles. Adding even more “muscle” to this market are the newer products targeted at increasingly specific eating occasions, need states or consumer groups (such as vegans). 

Lu Ann Williams is director of innovation at Innova Market Insights, provider of market research services including the Innova Database. With 20 years’ experience in the food industry, Lu Ann is a trend expert and frequent public speaker at events worldwide. She leads a team of analysts and works with global clients. Contact her at luann.williams@innovami.com.

Made From Skratch  

Editor’s Note: Prepared Foods talks with Dr. Allen Lim, an exercise physiologist and coach to professional athletes. He has worked with elite American cyclists for Slipstream Sports and was director of sport science for the RadioShack and Garmin professional cycling teams. In 2012, he founded Skratch Labs, a Boulder, Colo., maker of sports performance drinks, bars and chews.

Prepared Foods: Please describe Skratch Labs’ product line.

Dr. Allen Lim: We have three main categories of products to help solve nutrition problems for athletes: Hydration, Fuel and Recovery.

Within Hydration, the company has four different levels of hydrating drink mixes. They start at lower levels of electrolytes and reach to extreme levels of electrolytes for athletes who really need help replacing their sodium loss. Our offerings also include an Anytime Hydration Drink Mix to rehydrate when not exercising or somewhat active; a Sport Hydration Drink Mix to rehydrate when sweating; Wellness Hydration Drink Mix to rehydrate when severely dehydrated or ill; and Hyper Hydration Drink Mix for elite athletes who need to load up on water and salt before extreme exercise in the heat.

For the Energy category, the company has two products. We offer Sport Energy Chews, a carbohydrate energy source made with real fruit. Also new to the company are the Anytime Energy Bars, which are made with real food ingredients, such as brown rice crisps and quinoa.

In the Recovery category, our Sport Recovery Drink mix is the primary product line. It has a four-to-one carbohydrate to protein ratio, which optimal for refueling endurance athletes. It also includes probiotic to help with protein absorption; a complete milk protein with the highest number of essential amino acids versus other proteins; and lactase to help those that are lactose intolerant. It’s effectively chocolate or coffee milk—optimized for recovery.

PF: What have been your latest offerings?

Dr. Lim: We introduced the Anytime Energy Bars in November of 2017. We were responding to athletes’ for healthier, more effective calories during workouts and in their daily lives.

The company also launched Matcha & Lemon Sport Energy Chews in April 2018 with 6mg of naturally occurring caffeine per package.

PF: Why develop those particular items?

Dr. Lim: These products were made to help athletes who complained that conventional sports nutrition products just didn’t perform or made them feel sick. Too many products are loaded with non-essential ingredients such as colorings, flavoring agents, binders, emulsifiers, and artificial sweeteners. These ingredients can contribute to GI-distress and leave a bad taste in an athlete’s mouth.

Skratch Labs’ products were designed to solve these problems using known science along with whole food ingredients that the body can recognize and that don’t taste like “science.” Effectively, our sports nutrition products are designed for athletes who typically see sports nutrition as a necessary evil and who want real food to fuel and hydrate them.

PF: Skratch Labs has worked closely with athletes since your start. How would you say the sports nutrition market has most changed since then?

Dr. Lim: In the same way that the “Slow Food Movement” has transformed the way that many families think about their food, it’s also informed the sports nutrition market. More athletes are looking for “real food” solutions to keep them fueled and hydrated. The primary driver for this change has been performance.

Athletes have slowly and surely recognized that the feel and perform better when they eat real food. This was something that I learned directly by working with members of the Pro Cycling Team. Those insights also led me to co-write a series of Feed Zone cookbooks with Chef Biju Thomas back in 2009.

PF: It certainly sounds as though athletes share the same interest in clean or clear labels—as do mainstream consumers.

Dr. Lim: Our goal is to create the healthiest and most effective products for athletes and to very simply state what the product is intended for through the name and listed nutritional profile. Every ingredient in one of our products has a purpose and that is to help the athlete perform.

We made a decision to be a food company, not a supplement company. FDA regulation on food companies is very strict and demands transparency of every ingredient. For this reason, we don’t make claims on our products. We simply state what it is. Ultimately, because we don’t include unnecessary ingredients, we’re confident that our approach is better. Most of our products are Non-GMO, gluten free, dairy free and vegan.