The trend is gaining traction not just in foods and supplements but also in consumer electronics and fashion.
“The use of specialized sports nutrition products as a means to achieve optimum health and fitness has taken the sports nutrition category well into the mainstream domain,” said Euromonitor analyst Kseniia Galenytska.
“Sports nutrition remains the fastest growing Consumer Health category for several years in a row”.
Who is the customer?
Euromonitor report that Finland, Sweden and the UK are the biggest sports nutrition markets in terms of per capita consumption, and the UK is the fastest growing market with retail values increasing by 14% in 2017.
Galenytska says the internet remains the main distribution channel for the UK accounting for 60% of total sport nutrition sales.
Although traditionally sports nutrition was associated with bodybuilders, or core users, more and more consumers are joining the trend, seeking a healthy lifestyle.
Brands and the media are attempting to broaden the sports nutrition perception in order to appeal to a wider consumer group, say Euromonitor.
In order to target the lifestyle, or casual, users, brands are “penetrating the respective mainstream channels”, like drugstores and grocery stores, says Galenytska.
Another market intelligence agency, Mintel, report that the rise in female users has increased significantly and the market is seeing more and more products aimed at this consumer group.
The rise of the mantra “strong is the new skinny” is leading the trend and redirecting the perfect female body image away from thinness and towards strength.
Thus, companies are moving away from weight management products towards sports nutrition products for women.
Furthermore, active seniors are now considered a large consumer group for sports nutrition products.
Mintel analysts say that so far less than 1% of new product launches in the market are designed for seniors, and companies should be looking to create products which focus on muscle strength to appeal to this group.
The protein boom
Galenytska says the biggest achieving ingredient in the sports nutrition is added protein, which is popular due to its media support.
“The growing amount of brands in foods, drinks and weight management industries are trying to capitalize on the protein boom launching a huge amount of products containing protein,” she said.
Currently, protein powder is the most popular delivery form for the market, making up 65% of total sports protein products in Western Europe.
However Galenytska says this could pose a challenge to the sports nutrition industry as it creates problems of identifying what sports nutrition really is and what constitutes as food or supplement.
Euromonitor say they expect the line between sports nutrition products and high protein products to increasingly blur to reach the point where consumers do not differentiate between the two.
It is also expected for brands to offer on-the-go protein powder formats, in order to appeal to busy consumers and also to shrink the traditional pack size of large tubs.
Bars and RTD formulas are the fastest growing channels, however, as they appear to be more convenient to consumers.
Flavour is key
Both Euromonitor and Mintel say flavour is one of the most important areas for innovation in the sports nutrition industry.
Galenytska says consumers are moving away from chocolate flavours and towards fruit flavours, as they are perceived as being healthier.
“Chocolate works as an entry flavour because it masks the strong protein flavour. However, chocolate is not considered as a healthy product since it is associated with indulgence, like a sweet. Thus, natural flavours which are perceived as healthier ones, such as strawberry, vanilla and banana are more appealing to health conscious consumers”.
Mintel says that more interesting flavours are beginning to emerge, included coffee and tropical fruits.
Speciality sports nutrition
A rise in speciality sports nutrition has been seen, including organic products, or products suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
“The big trend in sports nutrition is the growth of non-animal derived proteins suitable for vegans and vegetarians. Surprisingly, the growth of such products is rather driven by social media influences than by the rise of vegan diets,” says Galenytska.
The trend has become popular due to non-animal derived proteins being perceived as more natural and thus healthier.
Mintel agree, saying that pea protein and rice protein are becoming more and more popular within the sports nutrition industry.
Their data shows between November 2013 and October 2016, 8% of sports nutrition new product launches carried a vegetarian claim, and 5% had a vegan claim.
Analysts say companies should be looking to include vitamin B12, iron and zinc in sports nutrition products aimed at vegetarians and vegans, as vegetarian diets are usually lower in these nutrients.
What trends to look out for
The use of Nordic ingredients, like berries, in sports nutrition products is seeing an increase, especially in those products aimed towards active seniors.
Mintel say the Nordic diet is associated with better physical performance and a decrease in disability risk amongst seniors, which is why it has been made popular.
The Nordic trend also appeals to consumers who are looking to include more fruit and vegetables into their diet.
Similarly, nut butters are seeing a popularity boom, being used in more protein bars on the market.
Nuts and seeds are attracting consumers due to being good sources of energy, proteins and good fats.
Thinking further afield, meat jerky has emerged as an area for potential growth in the sports nutrition market.
Jerky is unprocessed and so appeals to health conscious consumers and it serves as an alternative to sports performance nutrition snack, like bars, according to Mintel.