Beyond energy bars and beverages

by Allison Sebolt
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Customization and new product concepts are some of the most significant trends in the sports nutrition market as active consumers demand convenient products to maintain the energy balance they need for their activities.

Beyond the traditional bars and beverages, a product concept gaining the most attention is energy chews. Cif Bar & Co., Berkeley, Calif., recently introduced Clif Shot Roks, protein bites with natural and organic ingredients, in sports retail stores nationwide.

"Each athlete is unique, especially when it comes to sports nutrition," said Chris Randall, brand manager for Clif Bar. "Every sport and every workout requires something different. The bite-size nature of Clif Shot Roks enables athletes to consume the amount of protein they want when they want it, whether it’s for post-exercise recovery or meeting basic levels for daily protein consumption."

Each chew contains 2 grams of protein. The entire package contains 10 bites made with milk-based protein. Given this format, consumers have the option of choosing to consume as much or as little protein as necessary.

Why the emphasis on energy chews?

"People wanted the same energy, the same efficacy, but they wanted it a different way," Mr. Randall said. "They wanted something a little more familiar to them in terms of an eating experience."

In addition, Mr. Randall said chews are an easier form to consume compared to drinks, which are difficult to consume while exercising, and gels, which usually need to be consumed all at once and may be messy. Chews, on the other hand, may easily be kept in a pocket and eaten at any rate the athlete desires while participating in a sport.

Clif Bar also has Clif Shot Bloks energy chews. The emphasis of the Roks is on protein and recovery after a workout while the emphasis of the Bloks is on carbohydrates. The company also has Clif Shot Gel, Clif Shot Electrolyte Drink and Clif Shot Recovery Drink as some of its other core sports nutrition products.

"I don’t think (sports nutrition is) a niche market," Mr. Randall said. "Sports nutrition for endurance athletes, which is where we started, can be more toward niche, but there is still significant dollars there."

Mr. Randall added that many products in the endurance space are transitioning to broader channels. He said the company will work to bring taste and nutrition closer together.

"Customization will continue to grow," Mr. Randall said. "Athletes will continue to look for micronutrient needs where they are trying to figure out, ‘What am I low on? Is it magnesium or sodium?’ Companies like ours can deliver more customized solutions on sort of a nutrient basis."

Mr. Randall said another product concept in the sports nutrition market that is gaining attention is tablet drinks. He said launching such a product isn’t the highest priority for the company at the moment as Clif Bar focuses more on food than beverages.

According to Mintel International Ltd., Chicago, Clif Bar experienced an $18 million increase in sales from 2007-08, effectively outpacing all its competitors in the nutrition/energy bar market. Mintel said Clif Bar is building exposure by sponsoring athletes and events at all levels of competition. As another example of sports sponsorship, Mintel said PowerBar is focusing on a partnership with the World Triathlon Corp. Jelly Belly also has a pro cycling team.

In 2005, the Jelly Belly Co., Fairfield, Calif., introduced Sport Beans to help athletes at all experience levels manage the intake of carbohydrates, electrolytes and other nutrients. Each 1-oz serving has 25 grams of carbohydrates and 120 mg of electrolytes. The company said the product is for athletes participating in a variety of sports and fitness activities and for anyone engaged in exercise for 60 minutes or more.

"There was a legitimate interest and need for a product like this," said Rob Swaigen, vice-president of marketing for Jelly Belly. "We launched it rather quickly, and when we realized what we had we really went back and really dug in."

Mr. Swaigen said serious athletes weren’t hard to convince of a sports nutrition product coming from a candy company. In fact, he said the most serious athletes have been the quickest to embrace the product, but it has taken longer for the average or less hardcore athletes to be convinced.

"It’s a product we’ve been able to grow from the core outward," Mr. Swaigen said.

Jelly Belly recently reformulated the product to be made with natural flavors from fruit juices, to use colors from natural sources and to be naturally sweetened with evaporated cane juice. The product comes in lemon lime, orange, berry and fruit punch. The product also now comes in a bag with a resealable zipper.

Jelly Belly also offers Extreme Sport Beans with caffeine. Each packet has 50 mg of caffeine, which is about the same as in a half a cup of coffee.

"The options before Sport Beans were essentially sport drinks and sport gels, but there were some disadvantages to both of those," Mr. Swaigen said. "What Sport Beans really offered were portability and durability."

He said the company receives a lot of feedback from consumers saying they ration the beans one at a time instead of eating them all at once.

"What athletes are looking for are convenient energy sources they can use while they are in the activity, and Sport Beans delivers on all those fronts," Mr. Swaigen said.

As another example of a similar product on the market, Carb BOOM Sports Nutrition also has energy chews with carbohydrates and electrolytes.

"There are a number of players who have entered the market in this narrow category since we launched, and in some ways what I think that is going to do is grow the category overall," Mr. Swaigen said. "Early on there was a need to educate consumers about sport energy products, and now when you get four or five competitors side-by-side you can create a set."

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, October 27, 2009, starting on Page 52. Click
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