Healthy living, healthy business

25 April 2018

Andrew Tunnicliffe talks to Peter McConville, an independent R&D consultant and chair of Food Health Ireland, about the growing popularity and subsequent market for sports nutrition.

As consumer trends continue to shift towards healthier lifestyles and living, the sport nutrition and weight management sectors are growing apace in Western societies. Where did this trend begin, how much more prevalent will it become, and what will it mean for the future buying habits of consumers and those that manufacture for them?

A recent study found that, by 2024, the global food protein ingredient market will be worth a staggering $29 billion. It said the global demand for plant or animalbased protein was leading that charge, with estimates that the sector would be the overwhelming majority of that market, valued at approximately $22 billion by 2024. We speak to Peter McConville from Food Health Ireland to find out more.

Can you give us a bit of background about this market, its origin and challenges it may have faced before today?

Peter McConville: Sports nutrition started in bodybuilding and in serious, competitive athletes looking for ways to boost their performance. The sector has experienced significant growth in the past ten years through better penetration of the recreational athletic community and continues to see further expansion, with aspirations to capture the mainstream audience following some success in weight management and healthy ageing. The industry faces a challenge to normalise product propositions with consumers, especially when brand heritage is more hardcore. The lingering suspicions around supplements and doping violations are also a barrier to consumer confidence. Product claims also need to be more consumer-friendly and product formats more familiar to encourage uptake.

What have been its drivers and what are they today?

Global trends towards healthier lifestyles with more frequent and intense activity, plus increased awareness of life stage nutrition needs. We are also experiencing an enhanced scientific understanding of the market from research into sports performance and ageing.

How have our lifestyles helped shape the market?

The unfortunate increase in obese and overweight people drives a weightmanagement opportunity for the market and we’ve seen an increased demand for high-protein meal replacements, especially nutritional bars.

On the more positive side, increasing sports participation has furthered the need for products that aid individual performance, while improved nutrition and an enhanced awareness of how to delay the ageing process has increased the use of supplements and proteinbased products in older consumers. The current sugar debate and popularity of low-carbohydrate diets also drives the opportunity for higher-protein products.

Where is the market headed in the mid to long term?

The market is likely to remain diverse. Clued-up athletes will look for innovative performance-boosting nutrition that is often ingredient and composition-led, while those who purchase such products regularly will look for value. There will also be an opportunity for mainstream brands to offer fortified or supplemented versions of popular products. Occasion and convenience will also provide further opportunities for product development and innovation.

How have manufacturers responded to the trend?

Sports nutrition brands look to expand through normalising products while mainstream food and drink brands are providing more functional variants of familiar products. The three levers are still cost, efficacy (claims) and quality, which includes provenance and security.

Has the growth in this market fuelled innovation and, if so, how?

Definitely. We’ve seen expansion in product offerings, increase in consumer categorisation, new formats and product positioning.

What do we expect to see from manufacturers as they try to tap into this market and will there be further innovation?

Sports nutrition is a highly innovative category with well-informed users seeking new ingredients and products. Formats to address occasion and convenience will continue to grow, and we can expect to see more mainstream brands offering products with nutritionled propositions; for example, a nutrient version of a product with an additional 15g of protein a serving. Public health messaging such as warnings to reduce sugar intake, will also provide opportunities for new or reformulated product offerings.

Has the trend led to formerly niche players stepping into the mainstream and how have so-called mainstream manufacturers stepped up?

Traditional sports nutrition brands have been successful in expanding and penetrating new market segments, while sales to recreational athletes have been increased through listings in supermarkets, rather than solely through specialist or online channels. There has also been success in meal replacement or weight-management categories.

Mainstream brands are doing well in fortifying regular products such as breakfast cereals or milkshakes, while offering the reassurance of being a trusted brand, which allows easier adoption and therefore consumption.

Does the sector need more robust regulation – are some claims questionable?

European regulation provides good protection for the consumer so is certainly robust. However, there is a challenge around the digital channel that allows products from less-regulated markets to get into European markets with questionable claims and even quality differences that might not be to the consumers’ benefit.

Where do the next opportunities lie?

We will see more fortified or supplemented normal foods targeting lifestyle and life-stage consumer opportunities. There will be more differentiation through provenance such as ‘grass-fed’ and composition such as gluten-free, vegan, low-carb. Increased scientific research to support claims or functionality will also allow manufacturers to innovate.

There has been a flood of new offerings in the sports nutrition market.

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