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Science, certifications drive export potential of US-made sports nutrition products, experts say

By Hank Schultz , 11-Oct-2013
Last updated the 11-Oct-2013 at 17:19 GMT

The sports nutrition market continues to expand, and with global demand rising, experts say opportunities are growing, too, for US made products in export markets.

“I think a little bit of what’s happening is our fitness minded, sports-centric focus in the US is maybe a little bit ahead of everybody else.  Our obesity epidemic was ahead of everybody else.  So no we have this audience that has been interested in trying to get out of that with these products,” Susan Kleiner, PhD, told NutraIngredients-USA.  Kleiner is Washington State-based sports nutrition formulation expert and the author of Power Eating, Fourth Edition (Human Kinetics, 2013).

“I would assert in my experience that is has always been the case that US brands do indeed convey a cachet or a halo, in China, Australia, or Europe,” said Anthony Almada, principal of the sports nutrition firm Genr8speed, based in Dana Point, CA.

More science backing

Kleiner and others said that increased science backing is driving the new flurry of product development among US brands.

“Go back 10-12 years and sports nutrition did not really exist as a field. If you wanted to do science on sports nutrition or dietary supplements you would be laughed at. Today, it is a legitimate field, and there are dissertations being written about dietary supplements and sports nutrition. Today, it’s a booming category for both academia and industry,” said Jose Antonio, PhD, CEO of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

“I think there is a lot of innovation that happens here.  I think that we have moved very recently into a time where industry funding of research is starting to take hold which is very exciting. That research is more and more university based and is so higher quality and it allows the development of higher quality products.  The research field in the US has exploded in the last decade,” Kleiner said.

Almada, a longtime critic of the amount of research done in the dietary supplement sector, agrees with Antonio and Kleiner—to a point.

"If you put it into perspective, still only about one out of a thousand sports nutrition goods have even one study done independently showing their product is effective and safe.  On an absolute scale that's laughable, but relative to a lot of other countries that's a lot," he said.  

Predictable regulation

The regulation of sports nutrition products is more settled in the US than in Europe, which may help to drive some of that innovation. Sports nutrition products in the US are generally sold as supplements, and regulated under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which has been in place since 1994. They are subject to supplement GMP requirements as well as other regulations, though they can be marketed as foods, too.  Industry executives in the EU have bemoaned the regulatory limbo in which sports nutrition products find themselves there, as regulators have debated over the past decade whether to carve out a separate category for these products from general food regulations.  That debate is slated to be decided within the next two years.

Third party certifcation

Kleiner said contrary to some observers who criticize the US supplement industry as being “unregulated” she sees that US sports nutrition products are gaining international respect for quality and oversight, especially in ensuring that they are free of banned substances.

“We are in the early days of this but there in an increasing emphasis on third party certification for purity and potency. It is clearly setting the bar that the whole sports nutrition industry. It is essential for drug tested athletes.  That laboratory certification is still improving.

“I think that combination of data, product development and third party lab certification is positioning us very well for worldwide recognition,” Kleiner said.

Among the developments in the space recently that pointed to increased export potential was GNC’s purchase of the largest online sports nutrition marketer in the UK , Discount Supplements, Among the reason for the move was to give GNC’s own brands, which already account for more than 27% of the US market, a bigger export distribution footprint.  And Boca Raton, FL-based supplement marketing firm Nutrition Products International has formed an arm called NPI Global Export specifically to give US brands, including sports nutrition product developers, increasing access to world markets.

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