Categories in the packaged food and beverage industry continue to blur, and according to market analyses, more packaged products are aiming to please active consumers.
‘We’re seeing more consumers entering the sports nutrition category,” Stephanie Matucci, global food science analyst at Mintel, said at an education session on sports nutrition trends at Ingredient Marketplace on April 28. “These can include everyday athletes [to] consumers who are looking for healthy products to help fit into their on-the-go lifestyle.”
But another big segment of consumers gobbling up food geared for sports are what Mintel calls 'lifestyle consumers,' those who aren’t as engaged with athletic activities but see these products as a shortcut to health, Matucci said. “They can see [sports nutrition products] to boost energy, or as an aid for weight management.”
Today’s widespread appeal of sports nutrition products beyond 'serious athletes' isn’t just thanks to marketing efforts. A survey Mintel conducted with Lightspeed GMI found that in 2015, 34% of US consumers said they exercised more than they did a year ago.
Similar trends are recorded by sports associations, such as Running USA’s documentation of the continually increasing number of running event participants. “There’s an overall increased interest in exercising, but consumers are also feeling time crunched,” Matucci said.
For many of these consumers, consuming sports nutrition products is a short-cut to keeping up with an active lifestyle, Matucci argued, and many brands are catering to this by embedding features once reserved for specialty sport products into everyday items, such as high protein cereals and beverages.
Spotlight on waters
When it comes to sports beverages, neon colored electrolyte drinks or protein-rich milks may be the first to come to mind. According to Chris Schmidt, co-director of Euromonitor’s Global Consumer Health Research, protein still dominates the category in terms of global retail sales.
“[Protein products] make up 80% of the category, protein powder is the most ubiquitous, but also the most expensive,” he said. He cited Muscle Milk as an example of innovation within the category by bringing the product beyond c-store channels. “We expect continued growth for these products, but it will slow down a little bit as the novelty wears off,” he said.
What might come under the spotlight next are electrolyte-rich, plant derived functional beverages, which are perceived as more natural than traditional sport drinks like Gatorade.
According to Mintel data, 71% of sports drink consumers “prefer to drink more natural beverages such as milk, water, and coconut water instead of sports drinks.” Nearly a quarter of surveyed US consumers drink coconut water after exercise.
Mintel’s presentation offered a glimpse of functional beverages slowly climbing to the top of active consumers’ minds, which include pear cactus water to beetroot juice to watermelon juice, the latter of which recently got a sprinkling of stardust from an investment by Beyonce.