With a growing body of evidence supporting pre-workout supplements’ usefulness for enhancing physical performance, pre-workout supplements are building muscle in this sector.
As such, market insights firm Lumina Intelligence has captured data from 602 non-distinct pre-workout blends (PWBs) in 20 countries on all continents and discovered some clear consumer trends as well as opportunities for growth.
Ramping up ready-to-drink
When it comes to formats, powders still dominate the pre-workout scene with Lumina's data showing an overwhelming 92% of PWBs in this format.
However, Lumina's digital marketing manager Zoe Coleman says that pills and drinks are gaining popularity and the RTD format, in particular, could be a great way to bring PWBs even more into the mainstream.
She says: "Busy consumers do appreciate convenience, and having to mix the product up themselves presents a hurdle to some. Small bottles of around 200ml or less that can be consumed in one go, including 90ml shot-format, are likely to be preferred by many."
Industry players know that e-commerce has had a huge impact on this market.
Speaking at NutraIngredients’ Sports Nutrition Summit last month, Tom Morgan, market analyst for Lumina Intelligence, told delegates that online reviews are fast becoming the new currency in modern retail.
“Whilst word-of-mouth used to be the most trusted means of getting recommendations, as the consumer is buying more and more online, word-of-mouth is also moving online in the form of reviews,” Morgan explained.
But looking at PWBs specifically, Lumina research shows that these perform poorly in terms of consumer engagement when compared to other sports nutrition sub-categories. In fact, they only received an average of 225 per product, compared to 900 or more for protein powders and around 800 for BCAAs.
Coleman explains that these ratings could be impacted by the fact consumers expect to notice an instant gratification – primarily a boost in mental focus – making these products easy to critique and mark down.
However, she adds that the number and combinations of different ingredients varies substantially between products as does the number of benefits claimed which actually makes it very difficult to assess their efficacy.
“In our analysis of over 600 brand variants across 20 markets we found that amino acids, caffeine, green tea, creatine, nitric oxide, and taurine were the most used ingredients of the category.
“The energy-boosting, performance and recovery benefits of amino acids make their inclusion virtually mandatory.”
Coleman therefore suggests that expanding the remit of PWBs to stretch beyond instantaneous results may also be a good strategy for increasing engagement.
According to the data captured by Lumina, Botanicals are present in 62% of PWBs and the types of botanicals used are vast, with ginseng, green tea and beetroot emerging as the top three.
And Coleman says these ingredients go down very well with their audience.
“Fruit and vegetable extracts like blueberry, broccoli and cherry, as well as 'spice rack' ingredients like cinnamon, curcumin, black pepper and garlic are real rating and review winners."
She suggests that some to avoid might be green tea and yohimbine which have been linked with adverse effects including heart palpitations, headaches and nausea, as well as Yohimbine which is banned or pharma-registered in some countries.
A significant 60% of PWBs, however, choose not to reveal their exact composition as they contain a proprietary blend.
And Lumina's data reveals that PWBs containing proprietary ingredients generated over three times (330%) more reviews than those without.
CarnoSyn, a beta-alanine ingredient produced by Natural Alternatives International, emerged as the stand-out performer, featuring in one third of the PWB variants captured by Lumina.
Morgan explains that a large part of the reason for this popularity, is trust and reliability.
"With non-proprietary ingredients you can get a lot of variation between batches, sometimes suppliers will be changed, and consumers may not feel that they are getting the same product every time. By using proprietary ingredient it in fact INCREASES transparency, as consumers can see where the ingredients came from, and to what standard. Great!"
But he adds it isn’t just that, as proprietary ingredients also allow brands to control the ‘information stream’ that a consumer is exposed to.
"Say you are a customer who wants to research the ingredients in a product. They google 'black pepper extract' and get over 38 million results. Consumers are overloaded with information, they may read countless studies and counter studies, a number of things that may not be pertinent to them, etc.
"They google 'BioPerine'... There is a website dedicated to explaining the ingredient. Voila, they have the information of the very specific ingredient they are researching laid bare to them, and they are hit with the marketing that the brand wants them to see.
"Even if they don’t trust the branded website, they find other information that the brand has laid out across the web. Not only that but you’ve capitalised on anchoring bias – wherein people will put undue reliance on the first piece of information they receive, so you know they are starting with a positive view point."
Stripping-off the 'male-vibe'
Lumina’s research demonstrates that a 'general' audience positioning dominates today’s PWB scene.
“Gone are the days when dedicated athletes and bodybuilders were the primary pre-workout target market,” Coleman says. “Offerings targeted at a general audience have a much greater presence than products explicitly targeting athletes, at 350 vs. 229 products across 20 countries.”
Coleman points out that whilst PWBs tend to have a distinctly “male vibe”, the number of products targeting women is rising and she argues there is under-exploited potential in gender as well as age differentiation.
“Consumer and market trends show that older consumers are increasingly interested in more active lifestyles with the aim of remaining mobile, mentally sharp and independent for as long as possible. This is going to translate into growing demand for products that support this goal, and PWBs do fit the bill.”