Sports nutrition: an evolving market opportunity

With consumer interest in sport and fitness being higher than ever and the general population becoming increasingly health aware, key companies and new innovative players are taking advantage of changing trends, looking to capitalise on small niches within the market and creating opportunities for interesting new products

Sports nutrition is one of the most exciting and fast-evolving markets in the nutraceutical space; it has moved from the sole domain of athletes to the casual hobbyist. This dramatic shift is driving the market to adjust and evolve to match the increased interest and widened demographic. As a result, the global sports nutrition market is expected to experience significant growth, with Grand View Research Inc. predicting it to reach US$24.43 billion by 2025.

Traditional products, such as protein powders and ready to drink protein shakes, have been catering for everyday consumers for years and their current popularity shows no signs of slowing. A rise in the number of health and fitness clubs facilitating widespread product availability could be a driving factor.

The benefits of protein have pushed it into the spotlight in the context of healthy eating in recent years. Protein has been recognised by the wider food and beverage industry, creating the opportunity for the development of food products containing protein-rich ingredients such as nuts and additional supplements. Weetabix, for example, recently introduced a new protein-rich variant to its cereal range to meet the growing consumer demand for protein in diets.

“It’s not just the food and beverage industry grabbing a slice of the action. Many formulators and manufacturers are seizing the opportunity to create new products that meet new and diverse consumer needs,” commented Joy Thomas, UK Business Manager at Cornelius.

Cornelius, an independent European distributor of high quality, innovative ingredients for the food and drink industry, is tapping into the growing trend by working with partners who are developing synergies between proteins and other nutritional ingredients to build a holistic approach to healthy product development.

For example, international food ingredients company, Agropur, has launched new Whey Protein Pods. The pods, which are designed to add a crunchy texture to both sweet and savoury applications, while fortifying them with protein, can be used in foods such as snack mixes, cereal, granola and nutritional bars. Neutrally flavoured, the pods contain 70% protein.

As consumer needs expand, opportunities have opened up for innovative new brands to develop exciting new products that offer something entirely different.

“Protein on-the-go is becoming ever more important for consumers. As such, protein-rich snacks and protein waters have significantly increased in popularity, offering consumers a convenient format to deliver the health benefits of protein without the heavy calories associated with some traditional options,” Thomas noted.

To gain the clarity required to differentiate a protein water from a protein shake and enhance consumer appeal, many formulators have been working to develop a new breed of functional protein isolates. Cornelius principal and renowned dairy processor, Agropur, has launched BiPRO Crystal Clear (BiPro C.C.) to tap into this exponentially growing market.

BiPRO C.C. is a functional whey protein isolate purified from fresh dairy. Designed specifically for its high clarity and solubility in acidified protein beverages, it is ideal for formulating the next generation of protein products, facilitating clean label formulation in beverages, without the use of additional acidulants. It is also rich in branched chain amino acids to help the body repair, tone and build muscle.

Plant-based growth

One of the most exciting developments in protein use in recent years has been the move to alternative protein sources, with the traditional whey-based proteins now being challenged by plant-based products. Given the rise in veganism, it is not surprising that some consumers are looking beyond the traditional whey-based protein and toward alternatives from the plant world. According to Persistence Market Research, the plant-based proteins market is projected to grow at a value CAGR 5.7% to reflect a market value of about $16.3 billion by the end of 2025.

This trend is already apparent across the food and drinks sector. For example, chickpea-fuelled brand Banza recently launched a better-for-you plant-based alternative to rice using chickpeas. The new Banza chickpea rice contains three times as much protein, twice as much fibre and 30% fewer net carbs than brown rice, providing a better-for-you substitute for regular rice, quinoa and other grains.

The presence of plant-based products throughout sports nutrition is no exception. Although 6.4% of all food and drink launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in the 12 months ending October 2017 used a vegan positioning, this positioning rose to 10.5% in sports nutrition applications.

“Providing an easy-to-consume non-dairy protein alternative has its challenges, especially in terms of achieving a satisfactory taste,” says Thomas. “Flavour and sweetness are a high consumer priority, which can be particularly challenging with many plant proteins. Not only this, but issues with poor solubility, a gritty mouthfeel and aftertastes of earthy and bitter notes must also be addressed.”

To tackle this, a wide range of new plant-based proteins are launching into the market. For example, Artesa has developed a next-generation chickpea protein that addresses sensory and processing issues. Artesa Chickpea can match dairy proteins for taste, texture, mouthfeel and formulation functionality and has a minimum protein content of 60% and a fibre content of 14% — the latter of which is quite high compared with existing dairy and plant proteins that usually top out at around 2% fibre.

Innovopro has also recently developed a world-first technology that enables the extraction of protein concentrate from chickpeas. Its first product, CP-Pro 70, has a protein content of 70% and a subtle taste that does not overcome other flavours, demonstrating that easily digestible plant protein is now a reality.

Going gastro

Science is starting to reveal more on the far-reaching impact of the microbiome on physical and mental performance. “Cultivating a healthy gut flora through targeted dietary measures — including the consumption of fibres, probiotics and fermented foods — is becoming increasingly important. As such, probiotics and fermented foods are gaining attention in the sports world and may feature much more prominently in the future,” commented Thomas.

Cornelius is equipping the food and beverage industry with microbiome modulation innovations … with one key example, GanedenBC30, a probiotic from Kerry, the taste and nutrition company. The probiotic addresses the human microbiome’s balance to help deliver digestive health, immune benefits and protein utilisation support.

Studies shared by Kerry suggest that the GanedenBC30 (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086) strain may be an effective partner to casein protein for delivering certain sports-related benefits. Compared with casein protein alone, the combination of GanedenBC30 (1 billion CFU) and casein protein was found to be more effective at significantly reducing indices of muscle damage and soreness.

As the market for sports nutrition evolves to meet changing consumer needs and diversifies to integrate with new scientific developments, the opportunities for new product development are endless. Sports nutrition will no longer solely cater to professional athletes as it firmly secures its place in the mainstream and becomes an integral part of “healthy eating” for the everyday consumer.

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