Among the most popular functional foods are sports drinks and nutrition bars. According to market research publisher Packaged Facts, 36% of all U.S. adults consume sports drinks. Meanwhile, dollar sales in the nutrition bar segment grew an impressive 8% last year to reach $2 billion. Despite the popularity of both segments, several factors—including a shift away from sugary sports drinks to more natural formulations, as well as increased consumer demand for nutrition bars featuring savory rather than sweet ingredients—are ushering in a new era of sports nutrition.
These findings were published in the recent Packaged Facts report, Functional Foods: Key Trends by Product Categories and Benefits.
Growing consumer interest in recent years for more natural food and beverage products generally and those made without pesticides, artificial colors, flavors and other additives extends to sports drinks and points to a gap in the market that several small start-ups and, increasingly, not-so-small acquirers and new entrants, are actively attempting to fill. Packaged Facts anticipates that this activity will continue as long as there is market share up for grabs, which reformulation and repositioning by current market leaders, to both address and avoid growing criticism, suggests.
Many of these new products highlight the use of natural and organic ingredients, including greater use of natural sweeteners, both caloric, such as cane sugar and agave, and zero-calorie, stevia, monk fruit and erythritol. Focus on added sugars is also resulting in more use of other zero-calorie sweeteners to help keep caloric content down, notably sucralose and acesulfame potassium. Mention of vegan, Fair Trade and sustainability are just beginning to emerge as benefits associated with sports drinks. Packaged Facts expects focus on sugar to dominate in the year ahead with continued attention to these other important differentiators as this dynamic market evolves.
Meanwhile, the future of energy and recovery foods designed for athletes and others who are physically active appears destined to be dominated by savory flavors and ingredients, including meat. Many athletes have long requested energy products that are less sweet than standard nutrition bars and drinks, and now that national attention has turned to reducing added sugar in the diet, a new wave of savory products, including bars, gels and meat jerky, are being introduced.
Driven primarily by small entrepreneurs and regional companies, the U.S. is currently experiencing a major wave of new nutrition bar and related product introductions based on savory flavors and ingredients. Sweet potatoes, seeds, meat and fruits are frequently used ingredients. Most notable is the creation of these products with natural and organic, non-GMO, gluten-free whole foods including grass-fed, humanely treated animals while addressing sustainability concerns along with taste, performance and nutrition, noted Packaged Facts research director David Sprinkle.
Nutrition bars in flavors such as Roasted Jalapeno, Honey Smoked BBQ and Pizza Marinara are becoming increasingly commonplace as are those based on meat and other non-sweet proteins that rival jerky, in the footprint of a bar. More professional athletes can be found backing meat snack brands. Behind this growing trend is greater awareness among casual sports participants of the importance of consuming protein following exercise to help rebuild muscle.