Luca Bucchini from the European Specialist Sport Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) sums up the challenges and opportunities for this expanding market category.
How is the sport nutrition market evolving? What interesting innovations in food product development have you seen? Can you give some examples?
“The sports nutrition market has seen unparalleled growth, from athletes to the general consumer, from bodybuilders to the senior fitness enthusiasts. Businesses in this industry are thriving, and increasingly looking at new products, ingredients and better packaging to promote their brands over others in order to attract an ever-diverse consumer base. This is no longer just made up of individuals looking for support to “bulk up” and increase muscle mass, but increasingly includes individuals who turn to sports nutrition to support an active lifestyle.”
“The sports nutrition market is evolving in several other ways. Firstly, convenience is becoming an increasingly strong player in innovation, such as bars, ready-to-drink products (RTDs) and other ready-to-eat snack formats. On the Go (OTG) formats are increasing in terms of share of Sports Nutrition category based on increasing numbers of active users who see RTE and RTD formats as easily accessible and relevant formats to support a healthy lifestyle.”
“Secondly, plant-based protein, vegan products and natural or clean labels (with few ingredients) are also trends our members are seeing in sport nutrition products. These options are growing and moving into mainstream channels and are mostly in RTE and RTD formats. I have also seen a trend towards artisan and start-up brands fulfilling innovation within the sector as established credible brands struggle with their right to play in this sector.”
What are the most popular functional ingredients used by athletes at the moment? What type of products are getting momentum?
“The benefits of whey protein (and protein in general) and electrolytes in fuelling performance are well documented; also, creatine and beta-alanine remain popular ingredients, along with caffeine. But other ingredient manufacturers are asking consumers to consider new ingredient applications. This is helped by the movement against sugar and confectionery and the retailers drive to give more space to healthy options. There is also a lot of interest in botanicals that may promote relaxation as stress is a significant factor for athletes. Of course, there is also an interest in new sources, such as insects.”
What are the biggest challenges in the sport nutrition market?
“I think the greatest challenge is meeting the actual needs of a diverse and expanding consumer base. There is a scientific challenge; there is certainly scope for discoveries and products in supporting the aging athlete and enthusiast. There is a challenge to formulate and package effective products which are ethically acceptable to the younger generations in terms of impact on the environment. There is a challenge to provide an adequate product to fitness enthusiasts who may not need all the calories a professional athlete needs but does not know. We will also need to continue prove that our products fit within a natural and healthy lifestyle, within a healthy diet.”
“Furthermore, the industry still struggles with several regulatory issues, such as nutrition and health claims which limit sports nutrition companies’ ability to explain the benefits of their products; the current mechanism does not really support research and is not working as intended. As more professional athletes use our products, often relying on advice by teams, we need to deliver products that have no doping issue, but are also effective, in a robust scientific sense.”
“The rise of e-commerce in the sports nutrition industry has also raised new issues, as it is much harder to regulate products sold online and laws vary from country to country, so regulatory boundaries become blurred. Managing e-commerce in the sports nutrition industry in a fair and ethical way will be one of the biggest regulatory challenges of the near future.“
How can company ensure their product is 100% safe to use by athletes, and is not contaminated or is part of food fraud? How to ensure your ingredients are free from illegal substances? How can company test functional ingredients against food fraud/ contamination?
“One way to ensure that products are safe and law-abiding is by only buying from reputable companies. All members in the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance, a sports nutrition trade association for which I am Vice-Chair, sign up to its strict Code of Conduct, which require that they abide by all industry regulations. Complying with our Code of Conduct requires trained staff, and a deep understanding of rules and technical issues.”
“ESSNA has been involved in much activity to ensure that sports nutrition products are being used safely and legally. We have produced guidance for members on how to tackle inadvertent doping and we are working with the Committee on European Standardisation to develop a standard on good manufacturing practices to minimise instances of cross-contamination. Next year, we will be launching a campaign called Dump the Doping. This will be a European-wide industry-led week spearheaded by ESSNA, which aims to condemn doping in all its forms and in turn promote the fair, reputable and credible standing of ESSNA as a trade association.”
“Full manufacturing audits and third-party lab testing are ways to minimise risks. There are testing protocols, third party audits, and other mechanisms. The industry should fully utilise such tools as the food industry has done.”
How is the sport nutrition market regulated?
“The EU has taken more action in recent years with world class legislation to make food products healthier and safer for consumers. ESSNA fully supports these efforts, particularly in light of increasing rates of obesity and non-communicable diseases across Europe. Having said that, some adaptations are needed and ESSNA is working to be sure that the needs of sportspeople are taken into account appropriately in legislation.”
“ESSNA continues to fully support the inclusion of sports food in General Food Law, in line with how the market is moving, but calls on policymakers to recognise the specific dietary needs of sportspeople.”
“ESSNA, with the support of members, has implemented a structured programme of activity (known as the campaign to tackle non-compliance) to identify and address those cases where rogue businesses are seeking to gain unfair competitive advantage by failing to comply with the laws and regulations with which responsible businesses must comply.”
What are your predictions for the sport nutrition market over the next 3-5 years?
“It is almost certain that the sport nutrition market will continue to grow exponentially. It is important to note that no longer is the market just about protein. There are now a huge range of sports nutrition products which have hit the marketplace with success which do not fit the typical stereotype for a sports nutrition product, such as a shake or a bar.”
“I think the sport nutrition sector will follow health trends and I believe we are likely to see an increased interest in ethical and sustainable sourced sports nutrition products. This trend reflects the expansion of plant-based proteins in recent years, and perhaps we will see further development of sustainably sourced proteins that are non-dairy based.”
What are your predictions for the Food & Beverage industry over the next 3-5 years?
“There are contrasting trends. Consumers are looking for healthier and more sustainable foods, and, especially in parts of Europe, to limit spending. There is little doubt that vegan and vegetarian options will continue to grow, with animal-based products probably competing on quality. The probiotic industry has so far disappointed, but the microbiome appears so important to our health, that I suspect innovation may come to fruition in this sector. The overall challenge of healthier diets is not going away, and the consumer is still receiving too little help from the food industry in this regard; we almost have self-driving cars, but a good diet requires too much individual effort. So maybe some new idea will come up in that area. Of course, personalised nutrition-we shall see what real meat there is to it when the hype settles a bit.”