Reaching beyond athletes will drive sales of protein drinks

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Reaching beyond athletes will drive sales of protein drinks

Related tags: Nutrition

Consumer interest in health and wellness and on-the-go food continue to fuel growth in the nutritional drink category, but manufacturers could take sales even higher by targeting older and non-athletic consumers, according to Synergy Flavors and market research. 

“Continual interest in health and nutritious eating habits has helped fuel interest and boosted sales [of nutritional and performance drinks] by 48% during the five-year period from 2012 to 2013”​ to reach $12.3 billion, according to Synergy. Based on data provided by market research firm Mintel, the flavor-masking company expects sales of this segment to continue growing at the same break-neck rate of 44% to reach $17.7 billion by 2018.

Within the nutritional and performance drinks segment, sales of sports drinks still dominate – accounting for 56.6% of sales in 2013, worth $7 billion, Synergy notes. But this segment only grew 12.9% from 2011 to 2013 – which is far slower than nutritional drinks, which grew 18.5% to $3.2 billion to capture 26% of the performance drinks category.

Protein drinks captured the smallest share of the market at 17.7%, but it had the largest growth – a whopping 51.2% increase from 2011 to 2013, according to data gathered by Synergy.

Desire to improve health boosts protein drink sales

Convenience and the perception that protein drinks will improve health are the main reasons for the segment’s growth.

More than 50% of people who bought protein drinks said they did so because they provide balanced nutrition in one serving, are easier to consume on the go and are a convenient way to add protein to their diets. Weight management was another driver with 53% of users saying they buy protein drinks to curb their hunger and 32% saying that they think protein drinks help with weight loss, according to Synergy.

Positioning protein drinks as meal replacements also helped the category grow. Mintel data shows that meal replacement product launches grew by 86% from less than 100 products in 2009 to more than 200 products in 2013.

“By 2013, there were four times as many new meal replacement launches than sports drinks. This increase in meal replacement launches is indicative of the growing momentum in the segment and the sales growth expectations through 2018, as consumer interest in the segment increases,”​ according to Synergy.

Move nutritional drinks beyond workouts to drive growth

Despite the success of protein drinks in recent years, Synergy believes manufacturers can do better by perpetuating the perceptions of efficacy to lose weight, build muscle and increase immunity.

Firms also should position protein drinks as beneficial beyond fueling workouts and aiding recovery, Synergy said. For example, only 43% of consumers considered protein drinks as a snack, “suggesting some consumers may not be aware of the variety of uses for products in this category,”​ Synergy said.

In addition, manufacturers could better up-sell protein drinks made with a blend of proteins by educating consumers about the different benefits of each type of protein and how the varieties work together, Synergy notes.

Finally, firms could increase sales of protein drinks by finding “creative ways to attract older adults to nutritional and protein drinks, which offer many of the functional nutrition that older adults need,”​ according to Synergy. It points to Mintel data that shows only 21% of women 35 to 54 years old and 12% of women older than 55 years use protein drinks. Usage among older men is slightly better with 37% of 35- to 54-year-olds and 12% of men 55 and older using protein drinks.

Comparatively, young men aged 18-34 years are the dominate users of protein drinks with 63% of 18- to 34-year-olds using the drinks, Mintel data shows. 

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