How to expand sports and protein sales

Multi-ethnic male friends resting after jogging session. One of them has prosthetic leg and the other is wearing headphones and smart watch.

Sports and protein products, once almost solely consumed by bodybuilders, have now entered the mainstream. Asian Trader discovers how independent retailers can benefit.

Given the impulsive and on the go nature of the convenience market, sports and protein products have a significant role to play as a key component of many different shopper missions.
The global sports nutrition market is expected to reach $44 billion by 2021 and in 2016 was valued at $28 billion, according to
Euromonitor reports that Finland, Sweden and the UK are the biggest sports nutrition markets in terms of per capita consumption, and the UK is the fastest growing market with retail values increasing by 14% in 2017. Industry figures reveal that UK consumers spent £66 million on sports nutrition food and drink products in 2015, up by 27% from 2013.
According to TechNavio, a research company, who published Global Sports Nutrition Products Market 2016-2020 report, protein products will continue to be a big driver of growth in sports nutrition, with a greater variety of protein ingredients being offered.
Data from shows that there was a consistent rise in market value over the ten year period from 2007 to 2017. In 2007 the market value was estimated to be £73m, this number more than doubled to 2012, where the value was £170m, and then doubled again to over £350m in 2017.
Peoples’ understanding of energy is changing, including increased awareness of caffeine levels as a result of the announcement of the government consultation on a proposed U16 energy drink ban, leading people to increasingly choose alternative energy drinks to manage their energy levels.
This has led to the emergence of the new “natural energy” category, which although small at the moment (£11.2m) compared to traditional stimulants (£461m) is in +32% growth, according to the Britvic Soft Drinks Review 2018.
Some brands are delivering scale including Purdey’s, which is the biggest brand (£4m) and +17% growth which accounts for 35% value in the category, says Britvic.
Nearly a third (29%) of shoppers are also more likely to pay more for natural ingredient claims, with gains to be made by ensuring strong visibility for these products, according to Britvic.
According to Mintel, sales of sports nutrition products through the major supermarkets and chemists picked up in 2017. NPD focused on convenient formats and indulgent flavours is helping to make sports nutrition accessible to mainstream consumers. However, non-specialist channels remain a decidedly modest channel in the market, which the online and specialist retailers dominate.
Going forward, competition is likely to continue to intensify from mainstream foods adopting a high-protein positioning. Meanwhile, with young men being the core users of sports nutrition, growing usage among older consumers and tapping the grey pound remains a notable challenge for the category.
Meanwhile, strong interest among users in sports nutrition products that support digestive health or contain health-boosting herbs and spices highlights that these are areas brands can focus on to create standout and boost appeal among existing users.
Anita Winther, Food & Drink Analyst at Mintel, comments: “While the growing choice of high-protein food and drink is creating intensified competition, convenient formats and increasing availability in the mainstream are helping to make sports nutrition more accessible. Interest in products supporting gut health and those featuring health-boosting herbs and spices highlights these as areas ripe for innovation.”
Mintel’s Attitudes towards Sports Nutrition 2017 Report finds that many of the UK’s fitness lovers are using sports nutrition products.
Almost three in 10 Brits (27%) use sports nutrition products, which include protein bars, protein powders for a drink, energy bars, supplement capsules/tablets/sachets for sport sport/exercise, ready-to-drink protein drinks, energy gels, or other sports/exercise nutrition food/drink.
This figure rises to two in five (39%) Brits who exercise more than once a week.
Overall, it is the UK’s young men who show the strongest use of sports nutrition products, with three in five (61%) men aged 16-34 saying they use these products. High usage among this group comes at a time when many men are following bulky exercise regimes. Over one in three (35%) men aged 16-34 say they exercise four times a week or more, compared to 26% of women of the same age.
Meanwhile, it seems young women’s use of sports nutrition is growing from strength to strength, with two in five (40%) women aged 16-34 using sports nutrition products. What is more, Mintel research reveals that there has been a surge in usage of protein powders among young women. Indeed, while only 7% of women aged 16-24 used protein powders for drink in 2015, this has more than doubled in 2017 to 18%.
Currently, the top three sports nutrition products used by Brits are protein bars (11%), followed by protein powders for a drink (10%) and energy bars (9%).
Anita Winther adds: “The sports nutrition category continues to grow in popularity. A new ideal appears to be rising that sidelines the waiflike figures common among many fashion models in favour of athletic and toned – or even highly muscular – physiques, widely known as ‘strong is the new skinny’. This is great news for the sports nutrition market as well as high-protein brands and is likely to be contributing to the uptake in usage. It also helps to explain, in particular, the increase in popularity of protein powders among young women.”
However, while usage remains strong, as many as 63% of users admit that it is difficult to tell whether a sports nutrition product is benefitting them. Meanwhile, more than seven in 10 (72%) users would like to see an industry-wide certification that ensures quality of ingredients.
Mintel research finds that consumers’ current scrutiny of food and drink extends to sports nutrition. Some 64% of those who eat or drink sports nutrition products say that they always read the ingredients list before buying a new product and nearly half (46%) of users avoid sports nutrition products with sugar.
“Looking to the future, there is a high level of ingredient scrutiny among sports nutrition users, highlighting the need for brands to be transparent about what goes into their products.” Winther continues.
Furthermore, it’s not just sports nutrition products which Britain’s everyday athletes are relying on, as usage of high-protein food and drink is also strong.
In 2017, three in 10 (29%) Brits ate or drank high-protein food or drink products including high protein cereal/snack bars, high-protein yogurt/quark, high-protein dairy drink/smoothie and other food/drink labelled as high in protein.
45% of Brits believing it is important to increase protein intake when exercising regularly and 28% saying that products with added protein are a good alternative to eating foods naturally high in protein.
Despite the popularity of these products, around half (48%) of all Brits believe there is no need for extra protein in a balanced diet.
“The sports nutrition market is facing intensifying competition from the growing number of mainstream foods embracing a high-protein proposition. Usage of the two overlaps heavily and the more accessible prices and less processed image are likely to work in favour of the latter, with “lifestyle” users particularly likely to be swayed,” Winther adds.
Finally, while a third of consumers (34%) believe that they are healthier than they were a year ago, this is failing to filter down to exercise habits. Overall exercise frequency among consumers has seen little change over the last two years. A quarter (26%) of all Brits say they never exercise, compared to 25% who said the same in 2015. Meanwhile, 13% say they exercise between two and three times a month or less, with the same proportion (13%) who said the same in 2015.
“There has been a lot of talk about the booming interest in health in the UK, with the various and wide-ranging aspects of healthy living attracting huge amounts of attention. This is yet to filter down and have a discernible impact on exercise habits, with overall exercise frequency among consumers seeing little change over the last two years,” Winther concludes.
Simon Gray, Founder and Managing Director of Boost Drinks, says ready to drink protein products in this category are the biggest sector, with a 43.6% (IRI) share at the moment and continuing to grow. New Protein Boost contains 20g of protein and comes in ready-to-drink bottles which can be stocked in the chiller or on-shelf.
“Protein Boost also makes use of whey as the source of protein, as we know that in the UK, the whey protein market is one of the strongest among countries in Western Europe,” says Gray. “It is actually expected to grow by 7.3% between 2018 and 2023!”
Protein Boost is available in two flavours of Chocolate or Strawberry which both come in an 8 x310ml bottle case which can be offered as a £1.29 PMP to suit retailers’ needs.
“As an independent business ourselves, we are dedicated to the independent sector and the only brand with this commitment,” says Gray. “It’s a tough market out there but we’re here to help. We take the time to listen to retailers and find ways we can support them, whether that’s through great new products, POS or simply giving advice.”
Retailers can use the Boost margin calculator at to help decide whether to stock Boost products.
Cadbury is expanding its protein single offer following last year’s launch of Boost+ Protein with a peanut variant. Boost+ Protein Peanut combines chewy caramel and protein crisps enrobed in Cadbury chocolate with peanuts.
In line with Boost+ Protein original, the 49g bars contain 12g of protein – four times more protein and 32% less sugar per 100g than standard Boost bars – with no compromise on taste.
Claire Low, Associate Marketing Director for Countlines at Mondelez said: “There is a real consumer need for protein bars that deliver on taste, which is why we launched Boost+ Protein last year. Taste is the No. 1 driver of purchase for the chocolate category . We know that 83% of protein-interested consumers will not sacrifice on taste . Boost+ Protein Peanut continues to deliver on the enjoyment that consumers expect from the nation’s No. 1 chocolate brand, with the added benefit of protein.”
Lucozade Sport has teamed up with boxer Anthony Joshua, to launch a new special-edition Fruit Punch variant.
Available now, the Apple & Raspberry flavoured drink comes in 500ml bottles in standard singles, price marked packs and as a four pack. The launch has been supported by a £5m spend across social, digital and out-of-home advertising.
Liam Angel, Senior Brand Manager for Lucozade Sport at Lucozade Ribena Suntory said: “Tapping into culturally relevant sporting moments is key to growth. During the World Cup last year, Lucozade Sport grew by over +32.1% and this partnership with one of the most famous sporting icons in the country is undoubtedly going to drive further sales for retailers”.