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What does 2024 hold for the sports nutrition sector?

Article-What does 2024 hold for the sports nutrition sector?

© iStock/baona What does 2024 hold for the sports nutrition sector?
The year ahead is set to be one of political upheaval – meaning now is the time for the sports nutrition sector to leverage its influence and “create a policy environment that is fit for purpose”, says one industry expert.

Andrea Gutierrez-Solana, food and nutrition expert at Whitehouse Communications, was speaking during last week’s European Specialist Sports Nutrition Awards (ESSNawards) at Stamford Bridge stadium in London.

Delivered by Whitehouse Communications in partnership with the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) trade association, the awards celebrate brands, organisations, and ambassadors that have made the greatest contributions to the sports nutrition sector.

Now in its fifth year, this edition of the ESSNawards brought together industry players to celebrate all that has been achieved in 2023 – and to look forward to what 2024 might hold.

Sports nutrition: Political changes to influence policy in 2024

Gutierrez-Solana gave an overview of market trends that are expected to impact the future of sports nutrition.

“I think it's important to start by highlighting that 2024 will be a year of political change,she said. “We will be having elections both in the EU and the UK… [and this is likely to] signal a significant shift in the power held by the different political groups.

She drew attention to, on one hand, an expected increase in the number of MEPs “at the furthest right of the political spectrumin the EU; and on the other, a predicted win for the Labour Party in the UK elections after 14 years of Conservative governments.

“These changes obviously are going to heavily influence policy in the years to come, because the priorities are going to be different,” she said.

What will this mean for the sports nutrition sector? Gutierrez-Solana highlighted the most important trends likely to influence the category as being sustainability; the role of nutrition in public health; the ongoing debate around ultra-processed foods; and a greater willingness to support innovation and research.

“I think it is important to emphasise that 2024 is a perfect time to engage in the policy process… Our colleagues at ESSNA have been doing an amazing job of increasing awareness among regulators and policymakers of the needs of the active nutrition sector. And now is the time to use this influence to inform the agenda for the next five years and create a policy environment that is fit for purpose,” she concluded.

Sustainability, ultra-processed foods, and innovation on the sports nutrition agenda

Sustainability topics have been absolutely a key policy driverin recent years, said Gutierrez-Solana, and this is expected to continue.

The role of nutrition in public health is also expected to remain a major focus, with overwhelmed healthcare systems and a growing awareness of the importance of diet acting as drivers for policies that encourage reformulation, promote consumer education, and limit the promotion of products that are high in saturated fat, salt, and sugar.

A “somewhat newer trend is the negative narrative about ultra-processed foods, which “present many challenges, beginning with the fact that there's no definition”, she said.

“Despite the lack of clarity, there's some in the public health space who are actively calling for policymakers to discourage the consumption of these products,” she added.

She said that in her experience, policymakers are sensitive to pressure – so this is something that the industry needs to watch out for very closely, as many sports nutrition products will be considered ultra-processed”.

However, on a more positive note, there is also predicted to be increasing willingness to support innovation and research – welcome news for a category bursting with novel ingredients and new trends.

“Challenges such as climate change, the cost-of-living crisis, and food security concerns are making policymakers more receptive to new technologies and new ideas to address these issues,” said Gutierrez-Solana.

“For example, in the EU, we've seen a proposal put together by the Commission to regulate new genomic techniques. In parallel, in the UK, we also see, after the many, many, many issues brought up by Brexit… the government is now putting forward the idea of changes in the regulatory framework to make it less burdensome and more innovation-friendly.

© iStock/oversnapWhat does 2024 hold for the sports nutrition sector?

ESSNawards celebrate the ‘brightest and best’ in sports nutrition sector

Gutierrez-Solana was one of several experts to speak at the ESSNawards, which recognised the brightest stars of sports nutrition, with awards going to companies including MyProtein, Gencor, Weider Nutrition, Crown Sport Nutrition, and Nutrition X.

Luca Bucchini, chair of ESSNA, said: “The sports and active nutrition sector is constantly evolving, with businesses achieving remarkable feats of science and innovation across Europe and all around the world.

“Last Thursday, the brightest and best gathered to celebrate the greatest successes in our sector and honour cutting-edge products and brand excellence. Over the past few years, our industry has witnessed significant growth and has managed to overcome trade and regulatory challenges – such as Brexit, the pandemic, and economic downturn – and turn them into opportunities. This year’s ESSNawards was a celebration of that.”