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Vegetarian, 'free from' positioning drives sports products' growth

By Hank Schultz , 07-Nov-2012
Last updated the 07-Nov-2012 at 16:37 GMT

Vega, the British Colombia-based line of natural health and performance products, has used a vegetarian and “free from” positioning to fuel explosive growth in recent years.

“We grew 80 percent last year and we expect to grow another 50 percent this year,” Charles Chang, president of Sequel Naturals that markets the Vega line, told NutraIngredients-USA.

The Vega line has received accolades in the trade and consumer press, announcing on Friday that it had won an award from Better Nutrition magazine.

The line of active lifestyle and sports nutrition products was formulated around a base of pea protein, mixed with proteins from rice and hemp. It was designed from the beginning as a vegetarian product with help of professional triathelete Brendan Brazier.

And choosing pea protein was a key part of the product positioning, allowing a free from soy claim to go with gluten-free and dairy-free.

'Free from' now the key differentiator

The vegetarian aspect of the product was its initial point of differentiation, Chang said, as there really wasn’t anything like Vega on the market when Brazier first experimented to see if he could compete professionally on a plant-based diet.

“It was a critical for differentiator for us because we built our business around it. Now there are so many plant-based products out there it is no longer a differentiator,” Chang said.

“However, what is a differentiator is the free from.  I would say today the free from is actually a higher point of differentiation than the plant-based given how many entries there are to the market in our space,” he said.

While pea protein was not necessarily nutritionally superior to soy, it did offer some other benefits, especially in a product going into the natural channel, Chang said.

“We know that our pea is non-GMO,” Chang said. “We know that pea is a mechanical process, as opposed to soy which is a much more chemical based process, so the cleanliness factor of pea is far greater than soy.”

“We also think that one form of protein by itself is never as good as two, and preferably three,” Chang said.  The Vega products use the rice and hemp proteins to fill in the amino acid gaps of the pea protein to avoid what Chang called a protein with a “flat profile.”

The Vega products include the original formulation called Vega One, a general wellness powder beverage product.  It also includes some supplements and a line called Vega Sport with products aimed at pre- and post-workout and support during events.

Non GMO, but not fully organic

The Vega line does include some organic ingredients, but Chang said the company chose not to go the full organic route.  Hemp, he said, is not grown with the use of pesticides and herbicides because the crop doesn’t require them, so in his view only paperwork separates organic hemp  from hemp that is not certified.  For other crops, like green peppers, it pays to go organic, he said, to avoid the chemical inputs.

The company is a supporter of California’s Prop 37, Chang said.  A couple of Vega product lines are already certified by the Non-GMO Project, and the company is plowing through the paperwork to certify other lines, he said.

Chang said the company expects the strong growth to continue into the foreseeable future.  Vega has captured a trend, he said.

“I think there are more growth opportunities for more naturals in nutrition, period,” Chang said. “People are looking for things with fewer (pictures of) guys with big veins on them.  A think there is definite movement for people looking for products that aren’t related to being a body builder.”

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