Thorne Research's continued expansion in sports nutrition signals winds of change for the practitioner channel model

By Adi Menayang contact

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / UberImages
Getty Images / UberImages

Related tags: Practitioner Channel, Sports nutrition, Sports nutrition products, Sports drink

Further expanding its distribution beyond the practitioner channel, Thorne Research announced earlier this week that it is now the exclusive supplement supplier for a leading training center in Florida for athletes.

Thorne’s new partner, Bommarito Performance Systems​, provides training, physical therapy, nutrition planning services, and more to athletes, ranging from youth athletes to professional elite ones. Its website boasts Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots, Greg Olsen of the Panthers, and Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers among its clients.

“Thorne is equally excited and privileged to partner with BPS in helping their athletes achieve their performance goals by providing the most comprehensive line of NSF Certified for Sport products that are backed by real science and research,”​ said Thorne’s President Will McCamy in a press release.

“Our goal is always to put the athlete first and give them the safest and most efficacious products on the market.”

This isn’t the first training center that the firm is partnering with. Its first training facility partnership was with EXOS in 2015​, and earlier this year, it inked a similar deal​ with the Arizona-based ALTIS​, which consults with world-class track and field athletes.

Thorne Research has spent most of its more than 20-year history selling supplements to health care practitioners. The firm, which is moving to a new headquarters in South Carolina from Idaho, jumped into the sports nutrition space in 2012 when it launched a line of sports products​ under the name Thorne Performance.

Since then, teaming up with sports associations and training facilities has been part of Thorne’s strategy. For example, it signed a deal with seven amateur sports federations​ in 2016 to provide guaranteed safe supplements and nutritional information to athletes, and it sponsors a team​ in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

The ‘new practitioner channel’?

Thorne’s distribution model today looks vastly different compared to the traditional practitioner channel model, which, according to Nutrition Business Journal data from 2017, makes up 9% or $4 billion of the $42 billion supplement market.

But as the retail landscape changes, the sustainability of selling through healthcare practitioners has become equivocal.

At the Sixth Annual Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Forum on Dietary Supplements hosted by ACI and CRN last week, Adam Carr, president and CEO of Emerson Ecologics​, a tech company that distributes practitioner channel brands Life Extension and Metagenics, spoke about the model’s challenges.

“We’ve all been accustomed to ordering everything around us from our phone, usually from Amazon,” ​he told the audience.

If there’s the option to order online, why go to a clinic to pick up a bottle of supplements?

While Thorne’s strategy has been to aggressively collaborate with sports entities and facilities and offer a direct-to-consumer option on its website, Emerson launched an online platform called wellevate​in 2015 to help practitioners create convenient online stores.

‘A background in clinical nutrition does NOT prepare one for sports nutrition’

A partnership between a sports nutrition brand and a training facility is fairly common, at least compared to a decade ago, said Dr. Jose Antonio, CEO and co-founder of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, "though much of it tends to be basic stuff such as protein powders."

“Way back when, EAS partnered with Athletes Performance (now EXOS),”​ he added.

“I don't know if this is a good model or not from a business perspective; however, consumers, in this case athletes, often consume the supplements they are used to. I highly doubt a partnership like this will suddenly change the habits of an athlete that has been consuming other products,”​ he opined, commenting independently on Thorne’s deal.

On the plus side for such partnerships, Dr. Antonio argued, is that there’s a better chance that these sports nutrition products will be administered by specialized experts.

“Having a background in clinical nutrition does NOT prepare one for sports nutrition. It's like calling yourself a rocket scientist when you know nothing about rockets,”​ he said.

“To be great at sports nutrition, one must know the culture of that particular sport.”

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