Female athletic consumers: An untapped opportunity in sports nutrition

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / littlehenrabi
© Getty Images / littlehenrabi

Related tags Sports nutrition Dietary supplements Women

The dietary supplements industry is missing the opportunity of developing a brand focused on female athletic consumers that is supported by science and speaks with the voice that female athletes want to hear, say experts.

This statement was made by Susan Kleiner, PhD, RD, Owner of the internationally recognized consulting firm High Performance Nutrition and Director of Science and Communications at Vitargo during the NutraIngredients-USA webinar, White Spaces and Influencers: Winning in a Crowded Sports Nutrition Marketplace​ recorded yesterday (September 26, 2019). The webinar is available on-demand​.

Tom Morgan, Senior Market Analyst with Lumina Intelligence, told attendees that only 2.5% of sports nutrition products are targeting women. “These products are getting worse product scores and a much lower number of reviews than average,”​ he said.

In addition, products targeting women tend to cost more per 100 grams, said Morgan, but the ‘pink it and shrink it’ effect means that the cost per serving is about the same as the industry average. “You see ingredient levels not included in some products,”​ said Morgan, “or having smaller serving sizes, so you could say it has 30 servings and costs the same, but the serving size is less.”

Building trust

This did not come as a surprise to Susan Kleiner, PhD, RD, Owner of the internationally recognized consulting firm High Performance Nutrition and Director of Science and Communications at Vitargo. “Women that I work with range from youth athletes to recreational athletes, even women who may not identify as athletes, all the way to elite athletes and Olympians, and across the board there is a sense that there isn’t a product for them.

“When they look for products they really are looking at, what appears to them, as a male-centric product or a product that is both branded and through marketing feels like the target are males, but they understand their own needs and they figure out how to make the products work for them. But it does speak to them.

“The rest of the women don’t trust the products that are there, they feel very anti-supplement because they don’t think there is necessarily data to support the efficacy of the product. They are put off by the product because if it is branded as female-centric it is typically focusing in their marketing as a fat burner, getting leaner and sexier, but what they want is to get bigger, faster, stronger, and increase their endurance. Nothing speaks to that that they can find.”

“I think [the opportunity of the female athletic consumer] is passing the industry by. There are bigger brands that have individual vitamin supplements that are more targeted to the female athlete like iron supplements, but it isn’t speaking to the female consumer, they’re just mixed in.”

“The way trust will be built is when there’s a brand – or a division of a brand – that is dedicated to science, research to support the efficacy, and speaks with the voice that female athletes want to hear about strength, power, speed, competition, and success, but not getting skinny and sexy.”

Expert panel

Scarcity of science

Female consumers want to see elite athletes, but they also want to see the everyday athlete, said Dr Kleiner. “I think the sportswear industry is a great model where we see in Nike, Adidas, and Under Armor use elite athletes but we’re also seeing ads that use the everyday athlete and the use-athlete and I think we like seeing that.”​  

Candace Nixon, Senior Influencer Marketing Manager with Nutrabolt, concurred with this view. Nutrabolt has been working with Demi Bagby​, who Nixon described as “this incredible athlete, female, strong, and empowered, who doesn’t have this single focus. She’s this extreme 20 year old that likes to go surfing and skateboarding and jump off things. In the past, you did see the male athlete – the basketball player – who does perform really well, but in our experience, having this kind of athlete that is fitness but lifestyle driven has been incredibly successful for us.

John Venardos, VP of Regulatory and Government Affairs at Bodybuilding.com, added that he has been concerned by the relative scarcity of female-led clinical research on either safety or efficacy, and trying to extrapolate male-dominated research to apply to the female athlete or fitness enthusiast.  

“One of the things we’ve been concerned about at Bodybuilding.com within the world of sports nutrition is the lack of true scientific innovation in ingredients – the very few numbers of new dietary ingredient notifications going into FDA (48 I believe last year) and a sea of sameness – everybody’s selling whey protein, everybody’s selling branched chain amino acids, vitamins and minerals, etc, so you’re competing basically on label design, on claims, and your social media and influencers,” ​said Venardos.

“If there were greater investment in science and innovation to help achieve higher levels of performance by amateur or professional athletes, I think this industry could grow even faster.”

Sports Nutrition Summit-USA

The webinar was run in association with the NutraIngredients-USA Sports Nutrition Summit. This two and a half -day event will take place in sunny San Diego, February 3-5, 2020. For more information and to register, please visit sportsnutritionsummit-usa.com​.

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