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What is ‘Active Nutrition’ and How Can Health and Wellness Players Leverage the Concept?

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By: Simone Baroke

    This was the question posed at the Nutrition Integrates conference, which took place in June 2015 in London (UK) in a discussion moderated by Nick Morgan, Managing Director of Sports Integrated.

    In this article, debate participant Euromonitor International, jointly with Nick Morgan, would like to introduce the Active Nutrition concept to a wider audience and elicit feedback from the industry. We believe that Active Nutrition presents an enormous opportunity for health and wellness players as a platform for developing and marketing a wide range of nutraceutical products.

    We are proposing the following definition: Active Nutrition is a lifestyle choice with the primary objective of optimising both physical and mental performance. Active Nutrition-positioned products, therefore, are offerings that are specifically formulated to support consumers of all ages engaged in leading a healthy lifestyle which integrates physical exercise.

    A unique feature of Active Nutrition is its relevance to all life stages, from childhood right through to old age. The sophisticated sports nutrition market, in particular, serves as a constant inspiration in terms of new product development.

    Active Nutrition a kick start to life

    As human beings move through life, their nutritional needs as well as their physical and mental capabilities change. Active Nutrition adapts to that, and precisely therein lies the strength of the concept.

    The rampant rise of childhood obesity, in particular, opens up a key leverage point for Active Nutrition approaches. Identified as a major public health concern globally, the issue has triggered profound policy changes across the globe, for example regarding the provision of food and beverages in the school environment, leading to what are popularly known as “junk food bans”.

    This has given rise to surging demand for convenient snack and lunch food options low in fat and sugar but high in protein, vitamins and minerals. Needless to say, raising school-age children’s level of physical activity is an integral part of combatting and preventing childhood obesity. In other words, active children and Active Nutrition go hand in hand, providing extensive scope for product development.

    Growing up and into Active Nutrition

    Young adulthood is the time when the body’s capacity for achieving great sporting feats is at its peak, and although relatively few youngsters may be choosing a path geared towards sporting excellence, many do become interested in sports, practising them in clubs or informally with their peers. Products like sports drinks and energy bars start to gain traction with this group. Young men, in particular, also become aware of protein’s role in muscle building – protein makes up a core dietary component of Active Nutrition ­– and this awareness tends to stay with them for the rest of their lives.

    Educational attainment is also a prime preoccupation for teenagers and young adults, and this is often when they first discover energy drinks. Students commonly employ these products as concentration aids for exam revision and for helping them to stay awake when they have to meet tight coursework deadlines.

    Many will continue to use energy-boosting products strategically throughout their lives, eg when managing high-pressure work projects, driving long distances and also for maintaining physical exercise/gym routines while studying and/or working full-time. For this reason, these products also have a firm place in the Active Nutrition concept.

    Adulthood brings a multitude of challenges, including intense time pressure as people try to juggle their work, social and family lives. This means that, for companies interested in developing Active Nutrition products aimed at this time-poor adult audience, convenience is key.

    An active midlife to combat deterioration

    The entry into mature adulthood presents a major turning point, physically and psychologically. It is in middle age when consumers first become aware of the impact that the past decades’ wear and tear has had on their bodies. Aches and pains assault with increasing frequency and stick around for longer. The days start with morning stiffness, and the onset of arthritis in knee and hip joints means regular pain medication for many.

    In addition to the first serious signs of physical decline, intermittent memory lapses and a waning ability to retain new information are as much an annoyance to the middle aged as they are a worry. This is when consumers start turning to dietary supplements for help, like joint health products and herbal formulations aimed at boosting cognitive function, usually with the understanding that these are long-term measures rather than short-term fixes.

    Effective weight management also takes on a whole new dimension at this stage of life. Being in good shape is no longer solely a cosmetic issue. Instead, taking the pressure off sore joints and maintaining cardiovascular health become driving motivations behind health and wellness-positioned product purchases. In short, for consumers embarking on middle age, Active Nutrition is more relevant than ever before.

    Active Nutrition in late life focuses on boosting healthy life expectancy

    Our Consumers database shows that by 2030, 12% of the global population, equating to an estimated 1.0 billion people, will be aged over 65 years, up from 585 million in 2014. The real challenge, though, is to minimise the gap between life expectancy and healthy life expectancy.

    In developed countries, this gap was, on average, 9.6 years in 2014. The prospect of having to endure almost a decade of ill health is a daunting one, and Active Nutrition products formulated for the elderly consumer base are, first and foremost, aimed at staving off the gradual loss of mobility and the cognitive demise that come with ageing.

    Since the efficiency of the human digestive system declines as the body ages, a healthy diet alone is not enough to satisfy the complex nutritional needs of consumers desiring to spend the final stretch of their lives with their independence intact.

    Dietary supplements become invaluable at this life stage, as do easy-to-consume food and beverage products enriched with protein (to maintain muscle and bone mass) and fortified with vitamins and minerals, as well as with more specialised functional ingredients.

    Sports nutrition inspires Active Nutrition

    We view the fortified/functional category as the central arena for Active Nutrition products, and we expect the Active Nutrition concept to inject steady long-term growth into this category.

    As industry insiders will be aware, the fortified/functional category has been delivering a rather sluggish performance in a number of core markets of late. In North America and Western Europe, for instance, fortified/functional food and beverages experienced a marginal decline in 2015 (based on US$ 2015 fixed exchange rates and constant prices).

    The sports nutrition category serves as a prime source of inspiration for Active Nutrition products. Sports nutrition offerings are geared towards one singular purpose: helping fitness-dedicated consumers achieve peak physical performance. Many of the exciting innovations brought to market by the sports nutrition category can be adapted and promoted to generate mainstream appeal.

    The high-protein trend, for example, was for a very long time the exclusive preserve of the sports nutrition category, until it finally filtered into the mainstream a few years go. We view the high-protein trend, which is one of the most dynamic drivers in the global health and wellness market right now, as one of the core manifestations of the (much broader) Active Nutrition trend.

    Industry will need to work on mainstream appeal and consumer education

    The underlying tenet of Active Nutrition marketing is that the continuous consumption of the product (or the strategically-timed intermittent consumption, as in the case of energy boosters) will positively affect the user’s ability to meet the physical and mental demands of a busy and active lifestyle.

    The highly diverse (particularly in terms of age range) base of consumers that will be most attracted to Active Nutrition products is keenly aware that, for a human being to live a satisfying life over the space of eight, nine or even 10 decades, a sound body and mind are pivotal, and that a vaguely healthy diet alone is not enough to achieve this. In order to support an active lifestyle, these consumers demand food, beverage and dietary supplements that fit the priorities characteristic of the respective life stage which they currently find themselves in.

    Medical and nutrition research gleans new insights into physical and cognitive functioning virtually on a daily basis, and cutting edge sports nutrition and dietary supplements players are usually quick to translate these findings into specialised products. The main challenge for manufacturers catering to a mainstream audience will be to create products that are varied, appealing and life stage appropriate for the average consumer interested in health and wellness. The industry will also need to encourage and educate still reticent consumers to view and engage with Active Nutrition as a long-term pursuit.

    In a future series of articles, Euromonitor International plans to explore the concept of Active Nutrition in more detail, illustrating its growing relevance with more concrete product examples and recommendations as to possible directions to take in terms of new product development.

    We would very much welcome any feedback that industry players would care to share with us on this topic.

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