Opportunity or threat? The dangers of mass market sports nutrition

By Nikki Cutler

- Last updated on GMT

As sports nutrition becomes increasingly of interest to mainstream consumers, is this all one great opportunity for brands or is this mass orientation diluting the messages and alienating the core consumers?

This was one of the questions posed during the Sports Nutrition panel discussion hosted by NutraIngredients Editor Nikki Cutler at The Ingredients Show at the Birmingham NEC last week.

Panellist Tom Evans, product manager for SCI-MX Nutrition, pointed out the mass market audience is clearly a fantastic opportunity for sales but it does threaten to blunt innovation.

“Between the novel food issue and the lure of mainstream sales there has been a shortage of real innovation in the industry like we have seen in previous years.

“The brands who focus on bodybuilders are the ones who get to innovate and try new ingredients and applications, then the bodybuilder will identify pronounced results from those products much clearer, faster or more pronounced compared to the mainstream. Over time what works gets softened and pushed down into the mainstream.

“To keep innovation alive some brands need to focus on the bodybuilder, the triathlete, the iron man or the crossfitter as well as the active nutrition consumer, accepting those innovations targeted at the niche may be less profitable but they will be more exciting, more credible and will pioneering the products that will be the future mainstream.”

Probiotic popularity

Speaking about the trends and the opportunities for innovation for the mass market, Tom Morgan, senior market analyst for Lumina Intelligence, revealed that joint health and digestive health are the two areas with the highest interest but the least products on the market showing that there’s a gap in the market for products with added fibre as well as probiotics and prebiotics.

Evans agreed this is clearly a huge opportunity for new product development, adding ‘probiotics and fibre supplements should be on every sports nutrition brand’s innovation pipeline right now’.

But Mark Gilbert, vice chair of ESSNA, pointed out that there's still a long way to go in terms of making probiotics effective for the masses.

“With probiotics, the potential is massive but everyone’s gut microbiome is like a fingerprint so each gets different results from the same probiotics.

"We’ve got a long way to go before we can prescribe specific probiotics or prebiotics but we will definitely improve performance and health with their ingredients in the future.”

He also pointed out that whilst consumers are making an effort to get more fibre into their diets now, there is also a growing interest in personalised gut health and the low FODMAP diets which are driving awareness of the fact that certain fibres can actually have a negative effect on some people’s guts.

 “People are becoming aware certain fibres can actually exacerbate certain gut issues and are looking to find which fibres are the best combination for them, even if that means a lower intake for some people.

“This general recommendation that everyone needs 25 or 30 grams of fibre will be gone in 10 or 15 years as we will know some people do better on certain fibres while others do better on others.

The bigger the better

Speaking about flavour trends, Morgan revealed that Lumina’s data shows the more flavours available in a protein powder range, the better that product tends to perform. He added that often some of the more bizarre flavours aren't very popular but consumer clearly still like to have the wide range of options.

“One of the best offerings a sports nutrition brand can give people is a wide range of flavours. The most flavours from one protein that we found was 59 flavours with MyProtein and they are one of the best performing.

“Internet retail is helping advance the flavour market as it means brands aren’t restricted by shelf space.”

"And brands are going crazy with flavours - bigger is better. I’ve even seen a pre-workout which was unicorn flavour, whatever that means.”

Evans added that sweet and indulgent flavours appeal to the mass market and new technologies are making the flavour and textures even more indulgent tasting. But he also expects more 'natural' flavours to come into fashion, in line with the 'clean eating' trend.

When it comes to sweet products like shakes and bars, the dessert inspired trend is likely to continue – particularly as manufacturing and flavouring tech allows the eating experience to become more and more indulgent.

“Cocktail flavours are also going to be a big trend moving forward.

“But at the same time I think with the interest in clean-label products we’re likely to see a rise in natural flavours with a health connotation like Yuzu. Nobody wants to see a clean label health product with a blue raspberry flavour, I’m sure.”

Morgan added that Lumina Intelligence data backs this notion that 'clean' flavours are growing in popularity, adding that bone broth is huge in California, suggesting the trend should soon come to Europe.

What about EAA’s?

Morgan added that BCAAs are becoming much better recognised by mainstream consumers and he predicted these would continue to grow in popularity as people became more aware of their health benefits.

Questioning why this is, Gilbert said he continues to be amazed that BCAA’s are still the go to source of amino acids when these are just three of the nine essential amino acids.

“While BCAAs are just being discovered by more mainstream, later adopters of sports nutrition, for those with a more sophisticated knowledge, EAAs - Essential Amino Acids - are a new, and more scientifically-evidenced, trend and they are one of the big trends in North America.

“I’ve been saying for 15 years why is everyone taking BCAA’s, just three of the nine essential amino acids, when they could be taking all nine essential amino acids.

“There’s new research now showing BCAA’s versus EAA’s and it’s showing EAA’s work better than BCAA’s.

“Of course, companies like Universal and Animal and a few others have been selling these products for many years but they never caught on, showing that often marketing trumps science!”

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.




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