How are sports nutrition brands catering to the female athlete?
Having hosted a presentation on the subject at NutraIngredients Sports and Active Nutrition Summit earlier this year, Nick Morgan, founder of Nutrition Integrated, recently hosted a webinar on the subject of how sports nutrition brands approach the female consumer, saying "at the moment there's a perception that there is no credible application of nutrition to the female (elite) athlete."
He argues this could certainly be an accurate perception considering only 6% of sport science research currently is dedicated to the female athlete.
That said, Morgan notes there are a lot of brands in the market that are trying to appeal to female athletes but typically they are doing so through a version of the "pink and shrink" approach which is considered both "patronising and archaic".
A big part of the issue is that when you look into the specific nutrition demands of females in elite sports, as yet, more research is needed.
"We just still do not know enough about the female athlete under high intensity training to actually make credible applications," he said.
"...so no matter what is said today, there needs to be an accelerated stream of research into the needs of the female athlete, particularly those at a high level, that maximises technology and applies the principals of personalisation. That will enable us to move forward."
The reality is, though, that a number of brands on the market are already looking to cater to the female consumer and need help to do that effectively.
'Women's health' is very well established as a category within a dietary supplement area, says Morgan. So there may be frustration from a sporting perspective, the supplements market targeting women's health in general is very well populated.
Case-in-point, Morgan notes that 'Women's Health' only appears under 'Vitamins and Supplements' within both Holland and Barrett and Vitamin Shoppe's online navigation tools, but not under 'Protein and Fitness' or 'Sports Nutrition'.
Addressing the taboo
So what will consumers find in the 'Women's Health' category today? Morgan explains the mainstay pillars of products available for women's health include those targeted towards the menstrual cycle, pre- and post- pregnancy, UTI's, menopause, beauty-from-within, and multivitamins.
"And the majority of products on the market do still display an element of that 'pink and shrink' strategy in that many are pastel in colour and some packs are smaller.
"Many brands focus more on an 'attitudinal approach', as opposed to science driven, with brands aiming to inspire and empower female consumers."
But Morgan says this approach shouldn't be criticised as "they are important platforms to integrate the right products and the right advice as the knowledge and research evolves".
While products for improving female health have existed for some time, brands are now looking to raise the conversations which were previously taboo.
Morgan uses the example of the French brand De Lune which is all about menstrual health. Its Ultimate Cycle Wellness Kit has been created to help tackle 'everything your menstrual cycle with throw at you', including PMS, acne, and cramping.
Morgan explained that brands like this are as much about bringing these topics 'above the table' as they are about selling products.
"These brands are tackling these challenges females have head on and are loud and proud about tackling them in a new way."
Similarly, German-based 'Her One' is very overt about the fact it is founded by a female. It targets beauty, menopause, the gut and more.
The brand states on its website: "For many, topics such as PMS, menopause, intestinal health, digestion, bowel movements, are still a big taboo. My tea, and I want to change this by confidently addressing these topics, we impart knowledge and change the status quo (for females)."
"We are seeing brands looking to change the conversation, to break the taboo. We are seeing more modern branding, more accessible products, brands that create n enjoyable experience, products that will make consumers want to talk."
What about athletes?
But the number of female focused brands targeting sports nutrition are few. Morgan notes that Women's Best, based in Denmark, is one of the best-known female focused brands, yet there are no products within their range which are fundamentally driven towards women's sports performance needs.
He says most products derive within general female health - weight management, muscle building, healthy snacking, and beauty-from-within.
"When you look at their range it very much exactly as you would imagine in any other sports nutrition brand - it just happens to be focused toward women."
And that is a "consistent approach" within female focused sports nutrition brands on the market, such as with Be Essential, Buff Chick, and Protein.dk.
Interestingly, when looking at the key D2C SN brands such as Bulk, MyProtein, Prosis, BodyFit etc, you won't find an overt search for female health, Morgan notes, unless it's under the 'vitamins' section.
"MyProtein communicate they have more or less a 50/50 split males and females consumers so to some extent they are already catering towards the female consumer without having to change their range."
Technology driven knowledge
But where Morgan can see true innovation for female focused SN coming through, is via new technology. He points out that Harmonix and Fitrwomen are helping professional female athletes to track their menstrual cycles in order to adapt their micronutrients. The are tracking energy availability and looking to tailor products accordingly.
He notes this is essential as, ultimately, females don't necessarily need products tailored to their gender.
"Females are underserved in terms of information and knowledge and the more females can discover about their personal nutrition needs the better their ability will be to pick out the appropriate products which are already on the market."
He concluded: "Personalisation and technology is an important enabler and should form part of an accelerated research approach that brand could or should leverage today," adding, "...if there is ever an area within SN where technology should be focused, it should be within the female athlete."
In the meantime...
Technology aside, Morgan says that, in his view, the biggest opportunity areas within female focused SN, are within energy, collagen, mood, the female specific microbiome, the skin microbiome, and plant-based alternatives.