Mainstream drives UK sports nutrition, but do the claims hold up?

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Sports nutrition, Nutrition, Uk

UK consumers are embracing sports nutrition as they aim to lead
healthier lifestyles - even though they may not need the cocktail
of nutrients intended for the pros. But as the market develops,
manufacturers are advised to ensure products live up to their
claims.

According to a new Datamonitor report entitled "How to attract new sports nutrition consumers: using mainstream trends to pitch professional-style products"​, British consumers are now spending £180m a year on sports nutrition products.

The market researcher expects that spending in the UK will grow by another 30 per cent to £235m in 2010 as people become more body aware, more products seek to meet consumers sports and lifestyle needs, and better marketing and distribution strategies are implemented. Such products are now attractive to casual sports people and those who lead largely sedentary lifestyles, but who want to be healthier.

But despite the predictions of a boom over the next five years, Datamonitor does include a caveat: Unless products actually deliver clear and compelling health benefits and live up to the claims they make, they risk consumers turning their backs.

Western European consumers - particularly in the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden - are notoriously sceptical about health claims made, and the issue will be on more people's radar screens with the introduction of new EU-wide legislation next year.

The new report comes two months after the Australian Consumers Association questioned general consumer use of protein bars and shakes on the grounds that most do not need the levels delivered by products designed for professional sportspeople.

But if the general, non-sporting professional public, is prepared to pay for such products - whether or not they are discombobulated about their actual purpose, it seems manufacturers are more than prepared to make them attractive to them.

"As well as benefiting athletes, sports food and drinks help ordinary people feel like they are living a healthier lifestyle,"​ said Datamonitor analyst John Band, who authored the report.

"Consumers are switching to sports drinks because they are perceived as a healthy alternative to cola or chocolate bars, even though they often aren't… The sporty branding appeals to people's desire for wellness."

The UK sports nutrition market is divided into two fields: sports foods and beverages that can be a substitute for traditional foods and beverages; and sports supplements in pill or powder form, intended to be taken in addition to regular food and drink.

It is the former that is becoming a thundering market success, as they easy to incorporate into modern lifestyle. Sales of bars, beverages and gels reached £140m in 2005 and are expected to hit £191m by 2010.

As well as coming in attractive packaging, with appealing flavours and design, they can be conveniently consumed on-the-go.

Moreover, the difference between energy drinks for a quick pick-me-up, and sports drinks to replace minerals and calories lost during an intense work-out, is becoming increasingly blurred.

The use of sports nutrition products to combat tiredness or give a boost during illness is an interesting reversal of the marketing turnaround effected by Lucozade. Twenty-five years ago, the beverage that now uses sportspeople in its advertising was mainly given to convalescents.

Sports supplements, however, are growing at a slower rate - from £41m in 2005 to a predicted £43m in 2010. In general, people are less casual about the supplements they consume than they are about everyday foods, opting for products that are suited to their particular needs.

The supplement format is particularly common for products aimed at weight-lifters - a sport that is currently out of fashion. This means that the products are mainly purchased by serious sportspeople, rather than aspiring weight-lifters jumping on the bandwagon of a trend.

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