MSM, which is short for methylsulfonylmethane, is a sulfur-containing compound that supplement formulators use to make products marketed for joint health.
Bergstrom’s branded form of MSM, called OptiMSM, shows up in supplements with joint health claims marketed by big brands such as Jarrow Formulas and Nature’s Way, as well as in private label supplements such as Vitamin Shoppe’s line of MSM.
Because joints play an integral part in exercise and fitness, Bergstrom Nutrition eyed sports nutrition product formulators. It expressed its interest to enter the sports supplements arena back in 2013.
But very few brands picked up the idea of using MSM in a sports nutrition-positioned product, and they didn’t fare well on the market.
Currently no sports nutrition supplement on the market uses OptiMSM, despite the fact that some studies show potential benefit MSM has on sports recovery, such as one Iranian study published in 2011 done on 18 untrained men who did running exercises.
More competition beyond other ingredients
Entering the sports nutrition market has been tough because “it’s pretty-much a performance driven market, as opposed to an exercise recovery market,” said Tim Hammond, VP of sales and marketing at Bergstrom Nutrition.
“I don’t see a big proliferation of new innovation using MSM or other ingredients that promote this exercise recovery model,” he told us.
The biggest challenge was that there are a lot of forms of exercise recovery. This means that MSM isn’t just competing with other ingredients like protein or curcumin to get the attention of consumers and product formulators—it’s also competing against foam rolling and massages, Hammond opined.
Investing in certification, niche research
Hammond said that his company’s OptiMSM is the only branded form of MSM that goes through rigorous testing to meet different certifications, and it’s the only MSM manufactured in the US (a quick search on Google confirms this).
It recently got Informed-Choice certification, which certifies that Bergstrom’s MSM is tested at least on a monthly basis for banned substances. For the EU market, Bergstrom has been testing material under the Informed-Sport certification program since 2014, which has an even stricter test frequency of every batch.
These certifications were less about entering the sports nutrition space, and more about differentiation. “Our main initiative was to set us apart from commodity manufacturers of MSM,” Hammond said.
What the company is doing to enter the sports nutrition market is connecting with university researchers to explore whether MSM may uniquely benefit different populations of athletes.
The company has tapped the University of California-Davis to study MSM’s effect on collagen cross-linking in women athletes. It is currently still in the early planning stages.