‘Healthy selfie’ culture is changing the sports nutrition marketplace

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: iStock/gpointstudio
Photo: iStock/gpointstudio

Related tags Sports nutrition Brand

When it comes to sports nutrition purchases, consumers may say it’s ‘gains’ they care about—but they don’t really care, according to senior director of strategy at Interbrand Health Dominic Leung.

“Those functional descriptions of physique, although those are the things [consumers] will ask for, it’s not really what they care about,” ​he told NutraIngredients-USA at the recent Ingredients Marketplace conference and trade shoe in Orlando, FL, last week.

Instead, as the sports nutrition category becomes more mainstream​, most consumers today shop for a sports nutrition product as if it were an accessory, an extension of their personalities and lifestyles, with functional promises and physiological changes taking a backseat.

It’s a trend that Leung and the rest of his colleagues at the health and wellness branding firm Interbrand Health​ call ‘Healthy Selfie’ culture. “If you really think about it, consumers take photos of ‘health,’ whether it’s the gym, whether it’s what you’re wearing, what you ate, all of that is put on social media,” ​he explained.

Changing what drives the dollar in sports nutrition

Per Leung’s analysis, it's wise for brands to step out of the sports nutrition conventions in self-promotion as ’big, bad, and better,’ especially when paired with gendered marketing involving hyper-masculine packaging, bold letters, and array of physiological promises. 

“Those cliché things, is so not touching to today’s fitness culture,” ​he said. “It does create a sense of commodity, but it lacks a sense of differentiation.”

Of course, there will always be demand for the traditional bodybuilder supplement, and this marketing and branding strategy persists in the sports nutrition marketplace because it has been a tried and true one. But in today’s landscape, brands with these messaging will plateau, Leung argued. 

The rise of health as a status symbol

Photo: iStock/theverest

As the sports nutrition market landscape becomes segmented, one emerging trend that spans the dietary supplement industry is premiumization—brought by a sense of luxury, holistic wellness, and photogenic delivery.

InterbrandHealth’s 2017 tracking survey found that 41% of highly status-motivated exercisers count the number of likes they get on photos posted to social media, and 24% of US exercisers spend on average $310 for fitness-related offerings.

Not just for meatheads, creating an ecosystem on social media

Surveys that InterbrandHealth conducted for its clients revealed how sports nutrition is a category where consumer turnover is rapid, even with brand loyalty. According to Leung, a consumer would vouch for a product or ingredient, saying ‘it works for me, I love it, I tell everyone about it,’ ​but when asked how long they used it for, the answer is often ‘a couple months.’“We hear this all the time,” ​Leung said. “We’ll ask: ‘Do you use it now?’ And they’ll say no! Why? ‘I don’t know, I got caught up with something else.’” ​In other words, most consumers don’t really have a good case to explain why they stopped buying a product.

One way to keep consumers excited, and product awareness top of mind, is to create an online community on social media platforms. “People are looking for avenues to engage with brands, not just purchasing a one-off product,” ​Leung said. “It’s about creating an ecosystem. For example, you have a protein product. You can talk about the social desirability and sexual energy of life you can get from a great body.

“Or, you can have protein that enables a great body because you fundamentally believe you need that strength to take care of your family, your children. Or, you’re saying it’s about my discipline and focus. I kill it at the gym, and also at work.”

Ingredient companies: Innovating in making progress measurable

But social media engagement is not a differentiator; it’s a critical component in today’s sports nutrition market. To really stand out from the shelves or expo floors, the task goes to ingredient companies to design formulas that can make consumers feel that there is measurable progress.

Examples from Leung include taste changing, where the taste starts to change as consumers take in small doses “so they know they’ve had enough,” ​or playing with the concept of hydration and how ingredients can reflect itself in urine. “It’s all about creating ways to measure and track the ingredient, not just the performance of the ingredient,” ​Leung said.

Join us for our FREE Sports Nutrition Online Conference

Can anything stop the booming sports nutrition category as it broadens and softens and attracts more mainstream consumers? The US sports nutrition market is dynamic and diverse beast, valued at an eye-watering $10 billion for drinks, shots, bars, gels, and supplements.

But where is the innovation and which are the innovative brands? Which products are driving category growth, and what’s next for sports and lifestyle nutrition​? Can anything stop protein​? What’s happening with carbs​? And what about the rise of nootropics​ for focus and decision making?

We’ll answer these questions and many more during our unique, free-to-attend Sports Nutrition Online Conference​. NutraIngredients-USA will assemble sport nutrition scientists, product formulators, leading brands, and market experts to talk about what’s hot, what’s not, and how to stay ahead of the chasing pack. Click HERE​ to register.


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