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10/04/2021

Sports nutrition, weight management products address health-conscious consumers’ needs

Today’s consumers are the force behind changes across multiple health-and-wellness categories. Add a pandemic into the mix and we begin to see several new trends emerge, particularly within the sports nutrition, weight loss and meal replacement segments.

Today’s savvy consumers are the dynamic force behind changes across multiple health-and-wellness categories. Add a pandemic into the mix and we begin to see several new trends emerge, particularly within the sports nutrition, weight loss and meal replacement segments.

Many of these so-called savvy consumers are members of today’s visual culture, which some have dubbed the “Look at Me” generation. They are the driving influence behind changes we see today. Pandemic or not, these mainly younger consumers have made it their priority to stay in shape and always look their best regardless of — or despite — what’s going on in the world around them. 

When health clubs closed and in-person group training was not an option, people went old school. They dug out old treadmills from their basements; bought used equipment from Facebook Marketplace or purchased new gear if they could find it; signed up for online classes; and some even ventured outside to walk or bike around their neighborhood. During this period, we also saw the rise in popularity of digital community workouts, where people willingly shelled out big bucks each month for the motivation, support and connectivity interactive platforms, such as Peloton and Mirror, offered.

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Matt Wohl, president and CEO of Cliff-Cartwright, based in Wellesley, Mass., noted that when competitions and races were shut down last year, sports and sports nutrition took on an entirely new look. “With no need for ‘race day’ training and a greater focus on at-home workouts, consumers shifted their attention to everyday functional solutions and that has carried through to today,” Wohl said.

“These consumers are making buying decisions based on this expanded view of the category’s role and their changing workout and conditioning routines,” said Wohl, whose company is best known for its Hotshot line of sports shots.

“With no need for ‘race day’ training and a greater focus on at-home workouts, consumers shifted their attention to everyday functional solutions and that has carried through to today,”
Matt Wohl, president and CEO of Cliff-Cartwright.
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Sports Nutrition Appeal Broadens
At one point, only a very specific and narrow group of consumers were core users of sports nutrition products, namely weightlifters and endurance athletes. Today’s sports nutrition consumer is much more diverse and increasingly includes the growing group of active lifestyle consumers looking to sports nutrition products to improve their energy, protein intake and long-term health.

Not surprisingly as the user group broadened, what they wanted from sports nutrition products changed. This group of savvy wellness athletes was not going to fall for quick-fix gimmicks or empty product promises. They sought out products with science-backed ingredients, from companies that offer efficacy, transparency and evidence-based results. 

“The pandemic has caused a lot of consumers to be concerned with their overall health and wellness,” said Joe Herne, vice president of sales FDM at Boston-based Force Factor. “There are a lot of new shoppers in the space, but we also see purchase frequency increasing from consumers that had not previously been heavy buyers, suggesting that supplementation is simply becoming a more mainstream practice.” Beyond vitamins and minerals, Herne said consumers now have the ability to remedy a variety of concerns with products that target specific goals, and with specialized formulations that work to meet their individual needs.

And, as more people come to understand the importance of diet, health and immunity, there is a push for products that integrate such holistic wellness themes as vegan, sugar-free, GMO-free and gut friendly. Today’s wellness athletes also want more plant-based sports nutrition products ,as well as those that are sustainably sourced and free of artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners. 

“There are a lot of new shoppers in the space, but we also see purchase frequency increasing from consumers that had not previously been heavy buyers, suggesting that supplementation is simply becoming a more mainstream practice.”
Joe Herne, vice president of sales FDM at Force Factor.
funnel chart

Pea protein has become one of the most popular plant-based proteins in sports nutrition. It is high in leucine, which fuels muscle protein synthesis, and when partnered with other proteins such as chia, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, it delivers an optimal balance of amino acids. Another rising star is curcumin, which is purported to support joint health and promote a healthy inflammatory response. Data from Persistence Market Research shows the plant-based protein market is predicted to reach $16.3 billion by 2025.

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“Hotshot consumers, more and more, are looking for plant-based nutrition and solutions,” Wohl said. “In 2020, we heard from more athletes who were digging into the nutrition labels of what they were consuming as they focused on fine-tuning their health. Clean labels have been big, but the role of plant-based benefits is growing ever larger.” 

Products that address physical health are just one piece of the wellness puzzle. This summer’s Olympics helped highlight the role mental wellness plays in one’s life, be it with the weekend warrior or those competing at the highest level possible. This awareness has put the spotlight on pre-workout products that offer energy and mental focus support. As a result, experts said products containing stress-reducing adaptogens and medicinal mushrooms to improve focus and energy are predicted to see sales growth this year.

And, as more people adopt a whole health perspective, products that help with exercise recovery are gaining in popularity, particularly those that include L-theanine and melatonin to support restful sleep and probiotics to aid in better nutrient absorption, reduce muscle damage and increase recovery.

Regardless of the reasons that drive people to the category, value — whether that is reflected in lower price points or larger sizes — is important to consumers. “For too long, consumers have had to choose between low cost, low quality formulas and high cost premium options. We set out to remedy this by providing value premium formulations by way of product benefits, days of supply and retail price points,” Force Factor’s Herne said.

Weight Management
It seems when it came to watching what they ate during the pandemic, people fell into one of two camps — some did much better because they were not eating every meal out while others found comfort in normally avoided foods and packed on the weight. Consequently, in addition to seeing more people working out this year, we are seeing a surge in the number of people looking to shed a few pounds in a healthy, safe manner. 

Given this, it’s not surprising that sales of weight management products have been on the rise this year, and researchers predicted sales will continue to climb. According to market research firm Technavio, the weight loss supplement market is projected to reach $5.9 billion by 2024 and is growing at a CAGR of more than 5%. The growing obese population, the firm noted, has been instrumental in driving continued growth in the market.

a close up of a bottle

Admittedly, weight loss products have been around for a long time, undergoing many iterations over the years. And, as often as weight management products have changed, so too, has what motivates consumers to take them. For a long time, fad diets and quick-fix products were popular, but after many stops and starts, consumers have come to the realization that they cannot just waive a wand or take a pill and magically lose weight. 

While it is their physical shape they wish to change, increasingly consumers understand the solution to long-term weight loss lies in changing one’s lifestyle. Often this means letting go of years’ worth of bad habits and recognizing the psychology of why we eat what we do. For many, the stress associated with living in these unprecedented times has led to weight gain. At the same time, consumers have become focused on incorporating more functional nutrition, immunity-enhancing products and quality proteins in their lives that support performance and a healthier lifestyle.  

Iovate Health Sciences of Oakville, Ontario, Canada, with offices in New York City makes several weight management products, including Hydroxycut. The company recently kicked off a “No Fads. Just Weight Loss” campaign, aimed at addressing the confusion and struggle so many people face on their weight loss journeys. Kayleigh Dunn, associate director of Hydroxycut, said the campaign taps into the emotional component weight loss carries and teaches people that weight loss can be a fun process that includes making healthy lifestyle changes.

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“From full day juicing and cleansing teas to child-sized portions, we want people to know that weight loss doesn’t involve a quick-fix fad solution,” Dunn said. “Hydroxycut provides science-backed weight loss as part of a three-step solution, which includes proper diet and an active lifestyle.”

“From full day juicing and cleansing teas to child-sized portions, we want people to know that weight loss doesn’t involve a quick-fix fad solution,”
Kayleigh Dunn, associate director of Hydroxycut, said.

Meal Replacement
Mirroring trends being seen in sports nutrition, today’s meal replacement products have undergone a dramatic transformation recently. What was once part of a quick-fix trend that lacked quality and flavor, the latest generation of meal replacement products offers nutritionally complete, well-rounded options with simple, limited ingredient profiles.

Given that meal replacements are no longer considered a niche product, who these products appeal to has expanded as well. Originally, the primary audience consisted of athletes and outdoor enthusiasts looking to fuel their active lifestyles, but current products are being tailored to appeal to different usage groups. 

Some offer fitness support while others aid digestive health, and a growing number of new entrants are targeting consumers with specific medical needs, including those who are looking to increase muscle mass or shed weight. 

As one report noted, new entries are being driven by functionality and accessibility, and appeal to anyone who considers themselves “health conscious,” including those following a vegan, keto or paleo diet. This trend is expected to drive introductions of new products and fuel the launch of more plant-based, nondairy meal replacements.

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