A blow for equality: Why women's sports nutrition often performs 'atrociously'

By Nikki Cutler contact

- Last updated on GMT

From left: Nikki Cutler, Mark Gilbert, Tom Evans and Tom Morgan
From left: Nikki Cutler, Mark Gilbert, Tom Evans and Tom Morgan
Female-specific sports nutrition has frequently performed 'atrociously' with some attempts even described as a 'blow for equality' as they've alienated women with 'condescending' messages.

This was the view voiced during the Sports Nutrition panel discussion hosted by NutraIngredients Editor Nikki Cutler at The Ingredients Show at the Birmingham NEC earlier this week.

Tom Morgan, market analyst for Lumina Intelligence, revealed online product review data suggests women’s products are failing to impress.

“Women’s products are performing atrociously. And our intelligence tells us it’s the pinking and shrinking effect.

"The smaller serving size is leaving consumers wanting more and giving the impression of bad value for money."

Condescending connotations

Tom Evans, product manager for SCI-MX Nutrition, pointed out that brands that have attempted to 'girlify' their once male-orientated products have often appeared condescending.

“There have been many attempts at female-focused brands and ranges, especially in recent years. These can be either a benefit or a blow for equality.

“Existing brands creating female-focused ranges have been known to create less potent versions of existing products.

“For some this may remove a barrier to entry, but in terms of equality, the message ‘as a woman you can’t have the same strength product’ won’t sit well with others.”

He adds that the successful brands launching female-focused products tend to be those with no male-focused counterpart.

“These products have been designed from the ground up to appeal to women, rather than simply being a less potent or pink version of an existing product that could be perceived as condescending.”

Gender equality: Neutral brands

Evans added that many brands have been more likely to develop and market their products in a gender neutral or less masculine format in order to be more relevant to wider audience, as opposed to attempting to create female specific products.

“Now the balance has shifted to include more women – likely influenced by fitness trends such as social media’s ‘strong not skinny’.

“A push for gender equality has most certainly influenced women’s fitness. Women choosing to be strong, muscular or athletic would have been a controversial choice in previous generations. Now it is a celebrated life choice. 

"There’s a way to go, but the shift can certainly be seen.”

The 'natural' nuisance

Cutler pointed out that females do tend to be more concerned about eating ‘natural’ products and sports nutrition products are often perceived as being quite the opposite.

Mark Gilbert, vice chair of ESSNA (European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance), agreed this could certainly be an issue but added that consumers often fail to understand that many odd-sounding ingredients in sports nutrition products are perfectly healthy and natural.

“'Natural' is a really loaded word. For most people who don’t understand what ingredients are, they will read ingredients that are good for them and they assume they’re bad for them.

​Ascorbic acid is one example. If someone sees that ingredient in a protein shake and they're worried about the acidity of their food and drink they won’t touch it but they'll happily take vitamin C tablets. It’s the same thing!"

Demonstrating this point further, Evans pointed out that SCI-MX has recently launched its Pro2Go range designed to appeal to male and female active lifestylers. This range includes ‘vegan raw bars’ for those looking to eat only 'clean' and 'natural'.

Market the 'more'

Gilbert pointed out there are a number of ways that female-specific sports nutrition products could provide women with more tailored ingredients for their specific health requirements.

“There are certain ingredients that women clearly need more of than men, such as iron. Many women are getting anaemia – it’s a prevalent issue especially nowadays with many women avoiding animal products.

Picking up on this, Cutler surmised that female-focused sports nutrition ought to avoid 'girl colours', smaller pack sizes and reduced protein content and instead market products based on their tailored health benefits with particular focus on added vitamins and minerals.

NutraIngredients will be exploring this subject and many more alongside a host of industry experts during the Sports Nutrition Summit Europe​ in Amsterdam from September 4th-6th. 

The event, returning for its second year, aims to bring together industry professionals to bridge the gaps between cutting edge science, business strategy and key regulatory developments – offering a one stop shop for the latest must have insights in the worlds of sports and active nutrition.

Related topics: Markets and Trends

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