Special edition: Sports Nutrition

Broadening demographics boost $7.4 billion US sports nutrition market

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock / Lecic
© iStock / Lecic

Related tags: Sports nutrition, Nutrition

The continued mainstreaming of the sports nutrition market is driving much of the 12% growth in the category in the US, with many manufacturers moving towards less complex formulations and greater convenience.

According to Euromonitor International​, the market for 2016 is expected to hit $7.4 billion, with protein powder dominating with 72% share of value sales.

“Despite its large size, it also recorded the strongest current value growth of 13% in 2016 to reach sales of US$5.3 billion,” ​states the market researcher’s recent report. “Although ready-to-drink and bar formats are preferred by consumers due to their convenience, powder products dominated sales. The price-per-serving is so much lower that frequent users will stick with this format, while small pack sizes in grocery channels have helped introduce more casual users to the format. Smaller packs, combined with the rise of premium natural ingredients, have compounded value growth with a rising unit price.”

Sports protein bars, long scorned for their substandard flavors and mouthfeel, continue to lag behind other formats, said Euromonitor. Despite growth of 5%, total sales came in around $440 million.

The ‘premiumization’ of bars

While the protein bar sector has not set the world alight, manufacturers of energy and nutrition bars sector have driven growth by meeting increasingly sophisticated consumer tastes. “Popular brands like Kind and Quest Bar have developed loyal followings by pairing functional formulas with gourmet tastes to provide a premium snacking experience,”​ notes the Euromonitor report.

It’s not all doom and gloom and stagnation for the protein bar sector, however, with recent innovations including United States Nutrition expansion of its Pure Protein brand with Pure Protein Crunch, which are bite-sized protein snacks.

“Protein bars’ appeal to consumers is undeniable, but the category is likely to continue to underperform compared to other sports protein formats if it is unable to provide more enjoyable products,”​ states the report.

muscle milk
Cytosport boasts 12% value share in 2016, leading sports nutrition, according to Euromonitor International. The company’s ready-to-drink (RTD) Muscle Milk brand accounted for a 64% share of value sales in sports protein RTD.

Moving away from core demographics

Iovate launched StrongGirl in early 2015. The brand is created by women for women, said Vito Sanzone, Iovate’s CMO, in a press release. 

The mainstreaming of the sports nutrition sector is well documented, and brands are now actively positioned towards a particular sport and demographic. According to a 2013 report by market researcher Packaged Facts, people participating in yoga as well as those pursuing outdoor activities such as mountain biking and hiking now outnumber players of soccer, football, softball, baseball or volleyball, according to market data, and a key demographic among these is women, who are being targeted by brands such as StrongGirl from Iovate Health Sciences International.

Senior consumers continue to show greater interest in taking sports nutrition products which help to maintain muscle mass and sustain optimal levels of protein intake. Protein powder is also benefiting from consumers looking to manage their weight and wellbeing with a high-protein diet, particularly with plant-based proteins like pea.

These more mainstream consumers are also demanding more clarity on the labels, with brands responding by launching new products with fewer complex formulations and more convenient formats.

And this transparency is playing out in supplements with a move away from proprietary blends. Dr Jose Antonio, CEO and founder of the International Society of Sports Nutrition and editor-in-chief of its eponymous journal, told attendees to the NutraIngredients-USA Sports Nutrition forum in September 2016 that having access to data online has made it easier for consumers to get the information in terms of what the effective amounts of these supplements should be. “In the past I’ve seen these products that list their proprietary blends, and when you start doing the math—clearly they’re under-dosing a lot of the things that are in the blend,”​ said Dr Antonio.

Follow the light…

While the sports nutrition category has faced intense scrutiny, particularly in the pre-workout sector, some companies are investing in transparency-focused public outreach, such as product testing at races and public fitness events.

“Popular pre-workout supplement brands like Nutrabolt’s Cellucor C4 have taken to sponsoring obstacle races that are gaining broad favor among young fitness consumers who may not necessarily spend time in traditional gym settings or otherwise be exposed to sports supplementation,” ​states the Euromonitor report.“By engaging with potential consumers directly, explaining the science and provenance of their ingredients and providing an opportunity to experience their benefits in a relevant athletic context, these manufacturers are seeking to cement the legitimacy of key energy and endurance ingredients (including more “core” ingredients like creatine) among new consumers moving forward.”

Senior consumers

“Senior consumers continue to show greater interest in taking sports nutrition products which help to maintain muscle mass and sustain optimal levels of protein intake,”​ states the Euromonitor report.

Muscle loss is a natural part of aging, and researchers have estimated that, after the age of 50, we lose 1-2% of our muscles each year. Strength declines as well, at a rate of 1.5% per year beginning at 50 years and accelerating to 3% after the age of 60.

According to a monograph from the US Dairy Export Council, the direct health care cost attributable to sarcopenia were estimated to be $18.5 billion in 2000 in the US.

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