Broadening the appeal for sports nutrition products

by Allison Gibeson
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The on-the-go lifestyle of consumers is leading them to desire sports nutrition products to give them an energy boost. In addition, the line between sports nutrition and energy products is becoming increasingly blurry.

“There is still the market for the hard-core athlete and there are niche products, but I think everything is starting to become much more mainstream,” said Andrew Ohmes, assistant product manager at Cargill, Minneapolis. “People are taking an energy gel pack or grabbing a bar for breakfast or a snack — I think that is going to become much more mainstream.”

Mr. Ohmes emphasized the need for products that fit into people’s busy lifestyles and help them get through the day. He also said consumers are looking for multiple benefits from a single on-the-go package, with natural and reduced sugar items being desired.

Variety is important, said Jeff Banes, applied technology manager with Grande Custom Ingredients Group, Lomira, Wis. He said consumers are looking for different avenues and delivery sources for their nutrition. Portion size is a driving factor as consumers increasingly desire products in a smaller product format. In addition, Mr. Banes sees the market appealing to not only athletes but also anyone looking to supplement their diet with additional protein.

Shaking up a niche

Shake-mix beverage products play a key role in the sports nutrition category, particularly when it comes to protein delivery.

“While there is a lot of variety from a flavor perspective, there is not a whole lot of variety from a texture perspective — they all get mixed into a shake-like consistency,” Mr. Banes said.

In response, Grande is working to achieve more variety in texture for the shake-mix beverages. Grande Ultra Whey Protein Isolate is designed for protein fortification, especially in sports and replacement beverages, and helps achieve clarity in the product. It may be used in a variety of applications
without clouding the beverage and doesn’t require flavor masking.

Mr. Banes said the product helps make a water-type protein delivery system in a low-PH condition, which offers a different vehicle of getting a protein source as opposed to the thicker shake-like products so common on the market. Stability is especially important in sports nutrition beverages, but it may be difficult to achieve.

“Proteins combined with incorrect pH and heat treatments are a notorious problem,” Mr. Banes said.

Having a balanced blend of proteins, carbohydrates and fats is essential in any sports nutrition product, although the ratio of the proper blend of those nutrients is often debated. In the future, Mr. Banes sees more opportunity for whey-based bars and protein waters.

Mr. Ohmes of Cargill said reducing sugar in sports nutrition products is important, because the market is getting away from simple sugars that may cause blood sugar spikes and subsequent crashes in energy.
Pam Stauffer, global marketing programs manager with Cargill, said consumers are getting more comfortable talking about glycemic index and understand more about the concept.

To meet the need for a source of energy that digests slowly, Cargill has developed Xtend sucromalt, which is derived from sucrose and maltose. The ingredient helps reduce sugar in applications and leads to a steady source of fuel for the body without a sugar spike and crash, according to Cargill.

Ms. Stauffer said Cargill is looking for more partners with gel and beverage manufacturers interested in developing products with such an ingredient.

Chris Randall, brand manager for Clif Shot with Clif Bar & Co., Emeryville, Calif., said his company’s products increase blood sugar steadily to achieve sustained energy without creating a “sugar crash.”

Factors for spurring growth

Other factors that may spur growth in the sports nutrition category include interest in a healthy lifestyle, the economy, expanding distribution and innovation, according to Mr. Randall. He said due to the economy, consumers are choosing activities such as running that have a low cost to enter, which may lead them to choose sports nutrition. In addition, sports nutrition is expanding beyond specialty retailers and as more consumers see it on the shelves in grocery stores and large retailers, more consumers will buy it.

Clif Bar has recently introduced Clif Kid’s Organic, a snack bar. The company also has a line of products for children as well as products in the shot and chew formats. In addition, they have a variety of products in the healthy snacking category.

The sports beverage market is predicted to achieve $6.3 billion in sales during 2012, and has grown 21% from 2007 to 2012, according to Mintel International, Chicago. Enhanced water, energy drinks and coconut water are all providing competition in the market.

The research firm predicts the market will grow 52% from 2013 to 2017 with diet sports beverages leading the growth. Diet sports beverages were not available in large scale until 2009 but have since been responsible for most of the growth in the market.

Mintel said the market for athletic/sports bars reached $260 million in 2011, with the overall market for energy and nutrition bars reaching $1.7 billion in 2011.

Mintel said Clif Bar & Co. has 23% share in the nutrition and energy bar market and is also a leader in the health/wellness bar segment by focusing on the nutrition-meeting functionality market where bars don’t just taste good but meet nutritional requirements. Mintel noted the popularity of such bars has increased as more consumers are turning to activities such as triathlons, running and cycling.

“More people are discovering the fun of competing in athletic events … however, Clif is constantly learning from its core group of elite athletes to help innovate and expand product offerings for all levels of athletes,” Mr. Randall said. “Clif products are athlete-crafted and provide nutrition before, during and after exercise, therefore offering a variety of options to meet differing needs.”

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