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ESSNA ‘Lifts the Planet’ & broader sports industry – podcast

Article-ESSNA ‘Lifts the Planet’ & broader sports industry – podcast

© iStock/Maridav ESSNA sports nutrition podcast
Defining sustainability across the sports nutrition sector means considering issues from upcycling and human rights into packaging and inspiration in research.

Consumers across the globe are taking more of an interest in a healthy and active lifestyle, often fuelled by the use of sports nutrition products. How this aligns to the concurrent growth in sustainability and transparent sourcing is a critical issue for the sports nutrition industry to grow long-term. The European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) is the voice of the responsible sports nutrition sector in Europe, and recently rolled out its ‘Lifting the Planet’ sustainability pledge. Encompassing commitments around clean energy transition, circular packaging, sustainable ingredient sourcing, and much more, the move solidifies ESSNA’s desire to accelerate the industry’s transition to sustainability. In this podcast, Terence O’Rorke, business development manager at LGC Assure and a vice chair of ESSNA, speaks to the role of sustainability in the sports and active nutrition industry, and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Tune in to hear more about:

  • Steps that the sports nutrition industry is taking to reduce its environmental footprint.
  • The potential for alternative proteins to support the health and sustainability needs of consumers.
  • What the sustainability focus on diversity and inclusion means to serving female athletes.
  • Considerations around responsible sourcing in a global market.


Terence O'Rorke Terence O’Rorke
Vice Chair at European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA)

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Vitafoods Insights Podcast

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Podcast transcript:

Vitafoods Insights 00:06
Welcome to the Vitafoods Insights Sustainability Series podcast. From responsible sourcing to supply chain logistics, this dedicated podcast addresses some of the industry's greatest challenges and champions the stories of sustainability success. Today's host is Heather Granato.

Heather 00:28
Well, welcome to the Vitafoods Insights Sustainability Podcast. I'm Heather Granato, and joining me today is Terence O’Rorke. He's the Business Development Manager at LGC Assure, and as a vice chair of ESSNA, the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance. Founded in 2003 to campaign for appropriate policies and legislation on sports nutrition products, ESSNA today is widely recognized by legislators and mainstream media as the voice of the responsible specialist sports nutrition sector in Europe. Terence, thanks so much for joining me.

Terence 01:00
Great to be here. Thank you.

Heather 01:01
Well, I'm pleased that we're taking the time to talk about sustainability, as we hear a lot about this term, and how it's defined across different sectors. But I really haven't heard as much or had the conversation in the sports segment, which is something I'm excited we're going to change today. So, let's start out from what role does sustainability play in the sports and active nutrition industry?

Terence 01:25
Sure, that's a very important question. Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important factor. It influences consumers choices and as ESSNA we are not only welcoming this development, but also proactively encouraging it. In the sports and active nutrition sector, we see these considerations been incorporated into many aspects of the business, including product development, marketing, a whole range of different business practices. Just to give you an example, we now see many sports nutrition companies offering plant-based products to match the vegan and vegetarian lifestyles of the consumers, not only meeting their dietary requirements, it meets the requirements of consumers in different cultures, and countries where animal-based foods are not consumed for the traditional religious or cultural reasons. I think it's fair to say that the industry is also exploring alternative sources of proteins. And there's been quite a lot of discussion recently around sources such as rice and peas. And at the same time, the industry is embracing new trends such as insect-based proteins, insects have been around for a while, but I think there's been a recent resurgence of this as a source. All of these different sources have a lower environmental impact than the traditional sources of protein, which as we know, primarily from dairy to whey. The good thing though, is it's not only the consumer demands that has made sustainability an important priority for the industry. Regulators at the European national and international levels are increasingly requiring food businesses to comply with a range of sustainability standards. These standards refer to various things such as transparent sourcing, animal welfare, and things like circular packaging. And this regulatory drive has accelerated the industry's shift to sustainability even further. So, it's a combination of consumer driven and also regulation through the likes of the EU and national bodies. So generally, there is a will from the industry to participate in the sustainability transition. And ESSNA is very much at the forefront of this and encouraging our members and doing whatever we can to support them in, in moving forward in this direction.

Heather 03:46
Now let's dive into that a little bit further and unpack it. So, what would you say are some of the steps that the sports nutrition industry has taken to reduce its environmental footprint?

Terence 03:57
Yeah, I think there's been quite a few. I mean, clearly, there is wide recognition across the sector that's we or the industry needs to do to reduce the environmental impact on the supply chain. Many sports nutrition companies already source ingredients from responsible and transparent sources. And they are already supporting well respected international initiatives such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the RSPO. But some sports nutrition products do require ingredients which cannot always be sourced locally. This is a bit of a challenge. And so the industry is aiming to limit its environmental impact in our case outside of Europe by engaging directly with actors along the supply chain and seeing if there are any ways that they can explore alternatives. Key is that achieving sustainability in sports nutrition sector, it also encompasses other things such as protecting and safeguarding of human rights in the global supply chain. This is something which is you know, increasingly important to industries and you know all different sectors, with the aim obviously be to eliminating practices such as child labour and exploitation of workers, which I think is the modern term is modern slavery used for that. So especially for sports nutrition companies, which are sourcing raw materials from other parts of the world, for ESSNA, outside of Europe, these human rights issues are very important for them, and so they're performing their due diligence, and this is a central aspect of their corporate and social responsibility strategy. With regards to packaging, and then particularly packaging waste, the industry has also set out a clear ambition for targets to use as much as possible recycled and reusable plastics. Some players have already adopted pioneering solutions such as recyclable PETE plastics or FSC certified cardboard. And this is driven by regulatory obligations such as, for example, this Scottish posits return scheme. And we also see an increase interest in the establishment of these types of return schemes for drinks containers. And this feeds into the valuable raw materials back into the circular loop of supply chain. By producing sports nutrition products with long shelf lives, the industry also actively helps consumers reduce food waste. If the consumer has the option for retaining a product for longer then obviously, that there's less chance of it's been wasted. It's fair to say that many sports nutrition companies also have robust corporates, CSR or social responsibility strategies already in place. And you know that they have taken steps to switch towards renewable sources of energy, or working towards reducing their own use of virgin plastics and supporting the development of low carbon packaging materials. So, there are a lot of initiatives in place already.

Heather 06:49
All really exciting to hear about. And certainly the importance of that transparency into the supply chain and added focus on that food waste consideration. I'm pleased to hear that. You also noted earlier this consumer demand for alternative proteins, and that's really skyrocketed in recent years. But can plant-based sources of protein really support those unique needs of people in sports?

Terence 07:17
That is a good question. And I think the answer to that is yes, without diminishing the importance of traditional whey protein sources. I mean obviously, protein plays a key role in contributing to the growth and maintenance of muscle new in sports people. And animal-derived proteins are no longer the only source of this nutrient. The plant is playing an increasingly important role. And the good thing is the market of proteins is becoming increasingly more diversified. And the industry now offers highly functional products based on sources of protein such as pea, soy, nuts. The numbers prove that this trend is here to stay. And there's been some newly published data from the Boston Consulting Group and Blue Horizons report on alternative proteins. And they are predicting that by 2035 11-percent of all protein consumption will be from alternative protein sources. And so these numbers provide a great incentive for innovation in the sports nutrition industry. If companies out there know that there is a demand for it, then they will adjust their sourcing and their product formulations. Another development is that research and product development on the functionality of alternative proteins is advancing at pretty good speed. And the industry picks up these developments in real time to ensure that proteins from alternative sources cater for specific dietary needs of those consumers which are you know, engaging in exercise. For example, hemp is an alternative protein source which is higher in fibre, and polyunsaturated fat, than, for example, milk protein sources. And when it's used together, pea protein and rice protein, for example, can achieve a complete profile of essential amino acids, which is necessary for optimal muscle growth and maintenance, which obviously is the prime aim of protein. And we've also seen that soy protein is the vegetable protein with the highest essential amino acid quality and it can therefore be also used as a vegan alternative to whey and also to casein. However, it's I think it's important to stress that at the same time, consumers continue to value the efficiency and the traditional whey protein, which as we know is a by-product of dairy production. It used to be fed to the pigs back in the day before humans saw the value. And because it is a by-product, this feeds into the sustainable and circular nature of production, which is a positive thing. So, manufacturers of sports nutrition products started to source whey from grass fed and free-range farms as well to lower the carbon footprint. So even in this more traditional protein source they are looking at ways of making it more sustainable.

Heather 10:02
You can think about that almost an original upcycling story, I guess. Another aspect of sustainability gets into this issue of diversity and inclusion. And certainly we've seen ongoing conversations about the importance of addressing the unique sports needs of women. So how can the sports and active nutrition industry better serve that market and develop products that really meet the needs of those consumers?

Terence 10:29
I think that is a particularly pertinent question. Especially with you know, the success of England's Lionesses in the European Championships recently. You know, female sport is right at top of everybody's radar, as it should be. You know, as has been the case in many scientific disciplines, unfortunately, that the majority of sports nutrition studies over the years have been carried out on men—that unfortunately is the reality. And they've ignored the fact that female athletes do have slightly different nutritional needs than their male counterparts. For instance, during exercise, females have higher rates of fat oxidation and lower rates of carbohydrates and protein metabolism. compared to men, since the female hormone oestrogen has a what's called a protein sparing effect. The good news is that there have been advances in research recently in terms of trying to fill the gaps in knowledge on the sports nutrition needs for female athletes. And we are now observing a shift in terms of the research and product development. And there is an increasing focus on the unique needs of women athletes and women in exercise. If we look at today's sports nutrition market, we can see a broad variety of products responding to the unique needs of female athletes and that and I think that will continue to be the case going forward. However, that does not deny that there are more investments and research is needed to rectify that the male bias. I think ESSNA is confident that more and more sports nutrition companies will invest in trying to fill these gaps in knowledge. And by doing that, hopefully, they will better serve the needs of female athletes. But I think part of this debate also shows that sustainability is a multi-layered concept. It's related not only to the environmental and climate action, but as you mentioned, it's also encompassing considerations on diversity and inclusion, as it rightly should do.

Heather 12:23
I'm pleased that we're going to move past the pink it and shrink it approach to female sports nutrition. So, what are some of the remaining sustainability challenges for the sports and active nutrition sector.

Terence 12:35
There are challenges, and I think the swift transition to sustainability, it creates both opportunities and challenges for this for this sector. As an industry dedicated catering for specific dietary needs of athletes—male and female—balancing functionality and sustainability, it remains a key priority for the sector. But there's agreement in the industry that by continuing to invest in innovation and product developments, the sector can turn the transition to more sustainable food systems into you know, hopefully into an opportunity for growth as well. So, there are challenges but there are opportunities there. From a regulatory perspective, the sector just like the wider food industry also faces a wave of new legislative obligations. And these regulators across Europe, are introducing strict measures to involve food businesses in sustainable transition. The new sustainable EU food system initiative is just one of many examples of this. This explores the option of introducing general minimum environmental and social standards for food businesses, as well as a sustainability labelling system for food. So, it's happening at the EU level. And hopefully that will also drip down on to a onto a national level. But staying on top of these legislative developments and getting ahead of the curve in developing products which are more sustainable, that can certainly help companies to ensure compliance obviously, and also that their product range is meeting the needs of consumers who are becoming more and more conscious of these needs. I think just a final word on that. Another challenge for the industry is greenwashing which I know goes across all sectors and different industries. And obviously they want to try and avoid misleading consumers and the risks that are associated with that. Having strong environmental credentials is important obviously, and ESSNA is working towards developing guidelines to help their members to achieve this and also to avoid the malpractice of greenwashing and then having that sort of reputation.

Heather 14:45
So, talk to me a little bit as we wrap things up on what ESSNA is doing to support the broader industry in this sustainable transition.

Terence 14:53
As you mentioned at the start, ESSNA is a trade organization which represents the interest of sports nutrition you Europe and and you know increasingly also for sports nutrition companies from outside of Europe which are looking to retail into Europe. And so it has to not only serve the interests of its members, but also respond to members, requests for support. And sustainability is a key one of those. So, it's pretty much at the top of its agenda. In May, ESSNA launched its own sustainability pledge, which is called ‘Lifting the Planet.’ We think this is the first initiative of its kind for for the industry. And it sets out actions and commitments that ESSNA’s members can respect and commit to. The pledge covers areas such as sustainable sourcing of ingredients, the improvement of animal welfare practices, transition to clean energy, circular packaging, efficient waste management, and, you know, making sure due diligence is done in terms of sourcing. So, it sets out a good vision for our industry in Europe. And also ESSNA will be joining the EU code of conduct on responsible food, business and marketing practices. This was a stakeholder-led initiative that was announced by the Farm to Fork strategy. And it specifically seeks to gather commitments from the food industry to increase availability of healthy and sustainable food options for consumers. So, by partnering with other supply chain actors, ESSNA is helping to provide a level of support for its members, but also develop its own expertise, which then hopefully will filter down towards its members and help address all of the sustainability challenges faced by the industry.

Heather 16:36
Truly inspiring to hear what you're doing, and really the importance of partnering across organizations to benefit our industry as well as our consumers.

Terence 16:45
Yes, it is a high on the agenda for ESSNA. And, you know, thankfully, it's high on the agenda of our members as well. And, you know, hopefully, by working together, you know, we can address this and, you know, provide a lot of answers to some of the challenges.

Heather 16:58
Any final thoughts you'd like to share with our audience today?

Terence 17:01
Just that I think, as I have just mentioned, sustainability is a very, very important position for many of ESSNA’s members and for us as well. And I think it will continue to be so for many years to come. And the more we can do that, the better it is for everyone.

Heather 17:17
Well, I think you're right, and certainly will be interested to share the ongoing progress that you're making in supporting this industry. Great.

Terence 17:25
Thank you, Heather.

Heather 17:26
Terence. Thank you again for joining me and certainly to our audience. You can learn more about ESSNA at and we'll be back again next month exploring other aspects of sustainability and the broader nutraceutical community.

Vitafoods Insights 17:40
Thank you for tuning in. And don't forget to check the show notes that will allow you to link to the information discussed in today's podcast, as well as any sponsorship opportunities. The Vitafoods Insights Sustainability Series podcast happens monthly, so be sure to stay tuned, subscribe, and even suggest the series to a friend.