Many trends seen in the mainstream are beginning to permeate into the sports nutrition market segment in unique ways.
At a webinar hosted by Vitafoods, Innova Market Insights’ director of Insight and Innovation, LuAnn Williams, broke down some of the market research company’s insights into trends and developments within the sports nutrition segment of the food industry. Williams identified three primary market drivers over the past year in the sports nutrition industry, all three of which she said were similar in that it shows some of the more mainstream market demands identified in several food categories are bleeding into the sports nutrition market.
It’s fair to assume that this is in part due to the fact that sports nutrition, on the whole, is a segment reaching a growing number of people, and becoming more of a mainstream nutritional need in and of itself, Williams said. This year’s top three trends in sports nutrition, according to Innova, are Plant-based, Clean Nutrition, and Personalized Nutrition.
“In the 25 years I’ve spent working in this industry, I’ve never seen anything grow this fast,” Williams said of the plant-based protein market. Over just ten years, she said, plant-based sports nutrition solutions went from virtually non-existent, especially in the protein segment, to a clearly dominating force. In a survey Innova conducted this year, 71% of people from China, 49% of people from the U.S., and 43% of people from the U.K. reported that they are increasingly incorporating more plant ingredients in their diet, and the reverberation of the plant-based revolution can clearly be felt within the athletic side of nutrition.
“We talk about transparency and storytelling all the time among our top trends,” Williams said. “Our research shows that 56% of all consumers across ten countries say that learning where their ingredients come from and understanding their benefits are the two top influences to their purchasing decisions. When the sports nutrition category first developed, it was all about benefits, but as it becomes more mainstream, transparency is a greater ‘must.’”
Williams said that the demand for clean label items, which could include products that are natural, organic, GMO-free, no artificial ingredients or additives, or containing short ingredient decks, is less of a trend in the contemporary sports nutrition world, and more of a set of rules that companies must live by. Perennial sports nutrition brands that didn’t inhabit the natural space are quickly moving their in product development.
The outlook of consumers navigating the sports nutrition market appears to be no different than more mainstream segments, Williams said, in that it is appealing for individuals to have a wide range of choices, and the ability to tailor their products to fit their individual needs. The rise in products with gluten-free claims put this trend on the map in sports nutrition, due to the way it highlighted differentials in what people need in order for these products to be accessible.
Compounding this is the fact that sports nutrition products are being sought out for a greater number of applications, extending well beyond the typical energy-boosters that once served as the be-all-end-all in nutritional support of athletic performance. Williams pointed to the advent of diets which involve monumentally shifting macronutrient intake in order to lose weight, such as a high-protein or keto diet.
Examples of novel nutritional needs which are permeating the sports nutrition market include another one of Innova’s top food trends, which is using food as a means to improve mood and/or emotional health. “Endurance and energy are still important, but it’s also becoming increasingly important to target emotional health and lifestyle these days,” Williams said. She highlighted the prevalence of CBD in sports nutrition formulations, along with a long line of adaptogenic herbs and other ingredients considered to have nootropic properties, all of which are becoming “hero” ingredients that the sports nutrition segment ought to keep an eye on.
Additionally, Williams said that sports nutrition applicaitons are becoming increasingly technical, with a greater demand for products meant to be taken at certain times of the day, or those which prove to be most beneficial either before, during, or after a workout. She also pointed to two products emphasizing a move toward not only techincal, but technology-based nutrition solutions, such as the Vejo blender bottle, or Unlimitech's Smart Mask, which is worn to determine an individual's resting metabolic rate.