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What are the main drivers within the sports nutrition market?
“The demographics of consumers participating in sports or exercise has broadened over the past 10 years. According to a recent report in Statista and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall number of people who spend at least 30 minutes per day doing some athletic activity has increased.
“Although the percentage of men participating in athletics is greater than the percentage of women (23.4% for men, vs 19.6% for women), the participation of women has dramatically increased over the past 10 years, from 15.6% to 19.6%.
“As there are more “everyday athletes”, sports nutrition products are no longer targeted to only the serious athletes. Flavour modification becomes more important since these products must appeal to a broader population, and because there are more women as potential users, their needs must also be taken into consideration when formulating products.”
What are the latest market trends within the sector?
“The sports nutrition segment is a very dynamic and crowded one, so brands are constantly looking for ways to differentiate themselves. First, we are seeing a proliferation of product formats. Brands are branching out from traditional ready-to-drink (RTD) format and innovating with powders, tablets, gels, gummies, and more. Some of these formats have the appeal of being more convenient and portable, but there is also the sustainability of stick packs and sachets that appeals to consumers.
“As brands try to maintain consumer loyalty and grow market share, they are innovating their product lines and positioning. An electrolyte powder might now include some additional ingredients to enable claims of an immune support benefit. We have also seen messaging about how electrolytes can be used when people may need rehydration support, such as during flu season or when hungover. We also see brands expanding their product line to appeal to different periods throughout the day. One example is a traditional sports nutrition brand that now provides a sleep support offering. Others are trying to hold on to consumer interest by bringing out seasonal flavours.”
What are the biggest challenges of formulating sports nutrition ingredients? How can flavor and texture be balanced with products’ health benefits?
“Certainly, balancing taste and texture are important. As previously mentioned, if a brand intends to appeal to a broader audience, sensory issues like flavour and texture increase in importance. Ironically, the infrequent and new users may drive the biggest changes for a brand because they represent an untapped potential. So, a formulator may need to alter their product’s flavour profile to appeal to this broader population.
“Brands that are shifting to cleaner label, and using organic or vegan ingredients, may also have challenges as these ingredients may have a different taste or texture. Moving to a vegan protein source, like pea protein, can possibly require the addition of flavour maskers. The reduction of sugar may increase the need for altering viscosity. Reducing sodium can create the need for an entirely new flavour system. In general, any ingredient change can pose a challenge to a formulator but engaging technical support from ingredient suppliers of these new ingredients can quickly help overcome some of the hurdles.”
What are consumers’ main objections to sports and energy drinks? How can these objections be addressed?
“While there is a strong market demand for sports and energy drinks, we know that there are also objections that some consumers have to these products. At a minimum, these objections may reduce the market potential for these products, and at worst, these objections can become purchase barriers.
“From a study conducted by Mintel in 2020, the top three complaints consumers had about energy drinks were ‘too high in caffeine’ (42%), ‘too high in sugar’ (40%), and ‘don’t like the taste’ (39%). Other significant objections were ‘too many artificial ingredients’ (33%) and ‘too high in calories’ (24%). Many of these issues arise due to formulation decisions, but with the right ingredients, many of these hurdles could potentially be overcome.
“As an example, caffeine is very bitter. Using a product with encapsulated caffeine would potentially overcome this issue, and if a brand is adding a lot of both sugar and caffeine to get both an immediate and a lingering feeling of energy, this too can be addressed with the right ingredients.
“Ashland’s n-dur xr™ technology for caffeine will provide extended release of caffeine for up to six hours, so a consumer will get the benefits of extended release without an over-reliance on caffeine or sugar. Because n-dur xr™ technology involves a proprietary encapsulation technology, it helps mask the bitter flavour associated with caffeine. This same technology can be applied to EAAs (essential amino acids), to create a muscle recovery beverage that extends release of EAAs for up to six hours.”
How are manufacturers innovating to meet the demand for clean-label ingredients?
“There is no standard definition for clean label so each brand may interpret differently what this means for them, but looking at new product launches, it appears that removing preservatives and artificial colours are two of the biggest moves brands are making. There has been a big increase in new product launches that have ‘no additives or preservatives’ claims, from 15% in 2019 to 36% in 2022. Another steadily increasing clean label claim is ‘free from artificial colourings’, which increased from 13% to 26% of new product launches, from 2019 to 2022, according to Mintel.”