KANSAS CITY — Sports nutrition has become an attractive category for major food companies. This year, Post Holdings added PowerBar to its growing active nutrition portfolio, and Hormel Foods recently acquired the maker of Muscle Milk. Both brands offer a variety of formats designed to aid performance, provide quick energy, support muscle gain or recover from a workout.
The sports nutrition market is becoming increasingly segmented, as manufacturers sweat to stay ahead of competition. The market may be divided into three platforms: products for endurance sports, which grew 64% last year; products for bodybuilding, which rose 25%; and products for weight management, up 11%, according to Innova Market Insights, Duiven, The Netherlands.
“We see sports products becoming more specific, tailoring to the needs of whatever sport or workout you’re doing,” said Yasemin Ozdemir, market analyst for Innova. Ms. Ozdemir discussed trends in sports nutrition during a presentation at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition, held June 21-24 in New Orleans.
Four out of 10 consumers said they would pay more for products that meet specific nutritional needs. Asked about particular benefits in sports nutrition products, 88% are interested in products that help improve physical energy, 84% would choose a product that helps burn fat, and 50% would buy a product that aids in faster workout recovery.
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Innova tracks four product categories within sports nutrition: cereal and energy bars, energy and sports drinks, nutritional gels and tablets, and nutritional powders and drinks.
“Bars are more diversified than ever,” Ms. Ozdemir said. “Vegan is something that we are seeing more and more.”
Vegan is among several diet-specific claims gaining traction in sports nutrition, supported by a growing interest in plant-based protein.
“There are some well-known athletes that really try to promote the vegan diet,” Ms. Ozdemir said. “What they say is that plant-based products are nutrient-dense, rich in antioxidants, easy to digest, so it consumes less energy if you consume these. It’s still niche, but it is definitely growing.”
Of global vegan launches last year, 30% of products contain rice protein and nearly 13% include pea protein, while hemp, potato and soy protein are lesser used sources. Vega Sport offers a range of plant-based powders, bars and gels that combine sources of protein, including peas, sprouted whole grain brown rice and alfalfa.
Even the trendy Paleo diet has a product tailored for it. Paleo Protein powder from MHP combines premium-grade beef protein isolate and egg white protein. The product is free of sugar, fat, lactose and gluten.
Gluten-free and allergen-friendly were the top claims on sports and energy products in 2013, growing at 22% to 25% in global launches.
Simple label gains strength
Clean label represents another top trend within sports nutrition, driven by a focus on superfoods and functional ingredients, such as dates or dried fruits. No preservatives and additives claims are gaining muscle, up about 20% in global launches last year.
“Natural is globally a key trend, and we are seeing it more and more in sports nutrition,” Ms. Ozdemir said. “Clean label and natural are gaining momentum, and it’s not just these claims, but you will find other value propositions as well, like vegan, cold-pressed and all of those unprocessed type of claims are really appealing to this type of consumer.”
One such example is Raw Revolution Organic Live Food Bar, which are minimally processed bars that contain such ingredients as sprouted flax seeds, spirulina, barley and wheat grass.
“The raw claim is a different value proposition within clean label,” Ms. Ozdemir said.
Even established players in the category are responding to a desire for clean label sports products. Both Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo, Inc. recently removed brominated vegetable oil, a controversial ingredient used as an emulsifier, from Powerade and Gatorade, respectively.
Another key trend relates to product packaging. Portable formats, including gels, chews, bites, and shots, grew 26% in 2013. Hydration tablets and shots that add electrolytes and flavor to water from such companies as Nuun and Clif Bar & Co. tap into trends of on-the-go consumption and customization.
“Fast-absorbing, easily digested, and portability are key topics here,” Ms. Ozdemir noted.
Sports nutrition products also may be segmented by consumer group, with a growing number of powders and bars developed for or marketed to active women. PhD Woman, a United Kingdom-based brand, offers protein shakes and bars designed to aid in muscle tone and recovery, energy, and weight control.
“Traditionally, weight management products are more and more targeted towards women,” Ms. Ozdemir said.