Special Edition: Bone & Joint Health

Can bone and joint support be cool enough for sports nutrition?

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Sports nutrition Bone Joint health

Can bone and joint support be cool enough for sports nutrition?
Athletes and active people in general tend to put more wear and tear on their bones and joints. But unlike protein or energy, bone & joint supplements aren’t as easy to market as a sport nutrition product.

“Bone and Joint Health is boring to the average consumer; especially someone in sports,”​ Dr. Jose Antonio, CEO of the International Society of Sports Nutrition​ and editor-in-chief of the association’s journal​, told NutraIngredients-USA.

“If it doesn't make you bigger or faster...or give you more energy, it causes most of us to yawn,”​ he added. Numbers seem to mirror his sentiments—data from market insight company SPINS recorded total sales of $284 million for 2016. But sales for products that cross both bone & joint support and ​sports nutrition were only at $7,690.

Root of the problem

“That's a bit lower than I would expect, but doesn't shock me,”​ said Suzanne Shelton, founder of the Chicago-based boutique communications firm The Shelton Group​, who has worked in the dietary supplement realm for 20 plus years.

Most of all, marketing experts think that bone & joint health products tend to appeal to an older audience. “The sports nutrition category tends toward younger consumers, who think shorter term. They can't imagine being 70, and they certainly don't want to be reminded that they will be,” ​she added.

Steve Gaither, president of the marketing practice JB Chicago​, concurred. “Bone & Joint are typically important after you have bone and joint issues. If you have a joint problem it becomes relevant, not before. So your target market is a sliver.”

But could this shift?

Multiple data show that an active lifestyle is “on trend” in the US. The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition noted that 51.6% of Americans say they exercise regularly​ (30 minutes for more than three days a week), and aggregated statistics by Statista reported that gym memberships are at 55 million in 2015​, compared to 32.8 million in the year 2000, a 67% increase.

A by-product of this trend is the increased interest in sports nutrition products, not just by athletes, but also by mainstream consumers​. Marketing experts believe that bone & joint support ingredient manufacturers can benefit from this momentum. 

Sports Nutrition Woman
According to dietary supplement marketing veteran Suzanne Shelton of The Shelton Group, targeting women can be an idea: "Most women generally more aware of the need to, at some point, think about their bone health, so it makes sense to bring that into sports nutrition marketing messages for women."

“The problem/opportunity is you need to build a category. Joint health to the masses becomes an education game, a tough road to travel. This can be done however,”​ Gaither said. His practice, which has helped catapult up-and-coming functional packaged food and beverage brands like Tiesta Tea​ and Kishr​, said that the secret is to “create internet real estate for the dietitians and nutritionists, and then hit the trade shows to get the brand R&D and marketing folks into it.” ​For him, it’s a tried and true method he stands by after pushing monk fruit as a sweetener to CPG brands, getting coverage on the Wall Street Journal​ and Dr. Oz (twice), and eventually selling the ingredient to big names like Chobani, Coca Cola, and Zevia, he said.

Working within legal parameters

As anyone in the supplement industry would know, there’s a lot of responsibility when it comes to claims. Because sports nutrition targets a younger audience, Shelton said: “It's more about prevention for younger consumers and we can't talk about that legally.”

“We can't market to them by saying that the wear and tear on their joints from their active lifestyle may lead to degraded cartilage and arthritis, so they should start preventing that now,”​ she added.

According to Shelton, even the most responsible sports nutrition companies out there focus on the idea of “rebuilding” – building mass, sculpting physique, more endurance and energy. “So extending on that idea [for bone and joint health ingredients] could be effective. Using brand ambassadors that make joint and bone health part of their sports nutrition regimen can be effective as long as they aren't talking about it as insurance to stay active in their old age,” ​she said.

Perhaps it’s already on the rise

In the data from SPINS, despite the low number for bone & joint health products marketed as sports nutrition, there was a slight uptick of 6% year-over-year.

“There is no doubt that interest in bone and joint products targeted to the athlete and those regularly engaged in sports activities is going up,”​ said Nena Dockery, Technical Services Manager from ingredient manufacturing company Stratum Nutrition​.

“Marketers now realize that athletes need products that support their skeletal structure as much as they need protein supplements and other products for muscle building and general sports nutrition,”​ the spokesperson added.

Additionally, some ingredient companies have observed the effects of their products specifically on active, exercising people, whose bones and joints receive more stress than the average person. One example is BioCell Collagen​, which conducted a study​ on 8 healthy, recreational active individuals using its chicken sternal cartilage extract after exercise.

The study, published in the journal Integrated Medicine​ last summer, found that “a more robust muscular recovery and adaptive response occurred with use of the extract.”

Bone & joint health 16

Bone & Joint Health

Experts from GNC, NBTY, Jarrow Formulas & NOW Foods will discuss the market forces, science, supply chain, and future opportunities in bone and joint health in the FREE NutraIngredients-USA Bone & Joint Health Online Event on June 29. 

For more information and to register, please click HERE​.

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