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As sports nutrition continues to push further into the mainstream, producers are increasingly dropping the rogue image of the category’s past in order to increase appeal among non-core users. Wellness- and fitness-minded females represent a major opportunity among these more casual consumers. Unlike the related vitamins and dietary supplements category, gender-based formulating and marketing is underdeveloped in sports nutrition. However, as evolving fitness and nutrition trends drive more women to the category, producers are increasingly taking note and crafting brand extensions and stand-alone lines to cater to this long-ignored demographic.
Though women account for roughly half the 16-39-year-old population and gym members in leading sports nutrition markets like the United States, remarkably few sports nutrition products cater to their unique nutritional needs. While the disparity has roots in the demographics of bodybuilding and strength training (both of which are male dominated, and out of which the category evolved), it also springs from increasingly outmoded notions of female fitness. Traditionally, fitness routines catering to women focused on endurance exercises targeting weight loss. While many of these routines remain popular, female fitness has taken on an increasingly anaerobic tilt recently. Under the rallying cry of “Strong is the New Skinny”, young females are increasingly taking up resistance training, often incorporated in functional fitness/strength programs like CrossFit. Simultaneously, the rise of “competitive fitness” events, such as the Tough Mudder obstacle races (which has burgeoned into an international phenomenon and seen its female participation nearly double to 30% since it started in 2010), and the growing popularity of distance running and triathlons are encouraging more casual female fitness consumers to move toward a regimented training regime, in which supplementation is often a logical next step.
Despite their close association, sports nutrition has lagged woefully far behind its companion category vitamins and dietary supplements (VDS), in which women’s formulas are commonplace. Given the amount of women participating in fitness and sports and their higher propensity to use dietary supplements in many markets (a 2013 Council for Responsible Nutrition survey found that 72% of US adult women use dietary supplements, as opposed to only 64% of US adult men), the lack of large-scale investment to date is surprising. The category’s aversion to gender-based marketing reflects some of the angst that mainstreaming in general caused for large brands. Many market leaders were hesitant to target mainstream retail channels and the casual fitness demographic, fearing that appealing to the masses would expose the brand to backlash from the hardcore demographic that drives so much of the category’s volume. To date, mainstreaming has proven to be a boon to the entire category, and fears of alienating the core demographic seem to have been overblown. That may very well prove to be the case with female-focused products, as well.
For producers considering expanding into women’s lines, it is imperative to invest in meaningful product differentiation and targeted formulas. Products should speak to the unique nutrition concerns of women, including toning (as opposed to bulking up), bone health, joint health and skin health. Ingredients like folic acid, calcium, vitamin D, collagen and Co-enzyme Q 10 can address multiple concerns and provide true added value to protein products and non-protein products (such as all-in-one pre-workout supplements) alike. Additionally, packaging – particularly on-package health claims – should appeal to female fitness goals, which often emphasize weight maintenance, body toning and sustained energy, avoiding the often hyperbolic, mass-building claims that most men’s brands emphasize. Good examples of bottom-up innovation include Bio Synergy Ltd’s Active Woman in the UK. The company partnered with popular daytime television host and fitness personality Melanie Sykes to launch the line, which incorporates a pre-workout supplement, post-workout recovery shake, concentrated sports drink and several weight loss supplements. Its formulations emphasize their folic acid and calcium contents, and the packaging design is muted and more reminiscent of a food or VDS brand than the high-contrast, aggressive color schemes so common to sports nutrition. Launched in fall 2012, Active Woman has gained distribution online and through important brick and mortar channels including the health & wellness retailer Holland & Barrett and the drugstore chain Alliance Boots. Similarly in the US, fast-growing Muscle Pharm Corp – whose hyper-masculine Assault and Combat Powder brands are popular among both hardcore and casual users – launched the stand-alone FitMiss line in early 2013. Centered around Delight – a hybrid meal replacement slimming/post-workout protein powder – the line features a sachet format pre-workout supplement, a probiotic multivitamin and several weight loss supplements featuring popular ingredients like conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). The brand was initially launched online in the US, and began distribution in Walgreens drugstores in early 2014. It is also available in several international markets, including Australia and Germany.
In addition to their targeted formulations, Active Woman and FitMiss were both launched as stand-alone brands from established producers. Though this strategy can be more expensive that extending an existing line into women’s formulas, it provides brand insolation for companies concerned about alienating their core users, while also potentially appealing to the significant amount of casual users who may feel intimidated by traditional sports nutrition brands.
Note: Courtesy of Bio Synergy Ltd
While female-specific sports nutrition is still in its infancy, the market shows strong potential. Given the shift toward supplementation worldwide, facilitated by both growing consumer interest in preventive self-care and fitness trends that rationalize regimented dietary supplementation, and the increasingly mass-friendly persona the sports nutrition category is adopting, the female-centric niche is expected to receive further investment. While the impressive growth of the category (9% annual growth to US$13.3 billion in 2018) may encourage some producers to stick to their tried-and-true marketing, female sales will likely prove to be an incremental opportunity. As such, widespread investment could attract even more female consumers to the category, potentially driving sales even higher than currently forecast.
Global Sports Nutrition Sales (US$, RSP) by Category, 2013-2018
Source: Euromonitor International