A Highlight from the Bridge2Food 6th Sports & Performance Nutrition Conference: The Evolving Consumer

From 14-17 June, leading players from across the sports nutrition and sports drinks worlds congregated near Amsterdam for Bridge2Food’s 6th Sports & Performance Nutrition conference. The event brought together key suppliers, producers, distributors and retailers, all of which gathered to deliberate over developments in the industry, including the ongoing challenges surrounding an evolving consumer base for sports nutrition products across Europe.

The rise of the fitness lifestyle consumer

An area that was discussed during the conference was a growing need to look at the traditional sports nutrition products – namely high protein powders and bars and energy gels – competing in a much wider “active nutrition” landscape. This comes as the consumer base continues to evolve from a small minority of athletes and aspiring bodybuilders to a much larger mainstream segment of the population concerned with achieving optimum health and nutrition. Termed “fitness lifestyle” consumers, this group bring new demands, resulting in plentiful opportunities, but also challenges for sports nutrition brand owners.

The new waves of fitness lifestyle consumers across Europe, to whom health and fitness has become an aspirational social identity, vary in profile. They range from the gym-obsessed “spornosexuals”, who exercise predominantly to achieve a buff appearance, to yogis and health and wellness evangelists. While these consumers are not looking at specific performance targets in traditional sporting terms, they want their bodies and minds to perform at a higher capacity and are interested in a broader range of products to complement their exercise routines.

Growing demands and opportunities

As the demands from new consumers are more lifestyle-orientated, a treasure chest of opportunities has opened up for sports nutrition brands to expand their ranges into other areas. From food and drink staples, such as instant oats, organic butters and oils and even coffee, to an array of vitamins and supplements for general health, we are seeing a shift in the types of products, which is blurring the lines of sports nutrition.

Acknowledging and addressing the growing number of female fitness lifestyle consumers is also an on-going demand for sports nutrition brands. Millennial women, in particular, are highly influenced by the health and fitness blogs and gurus they follow online, with an emphasis on a high protein-supplemented diet as well as natural organic products. The need to offer organic and natural products, that understand the nutritional needs of women and take them seriously as a consumer of sports nutrition, is currently yet to be fully met.

As well as launching in new product areas, we expect that collaborations could be an increasingly lucrative way to expand presence as a fitness lifestyle brand and appeal to both men and women. Clothing, electronic fitness trackers, gym franchises and the emerging breed of fitness leisure events (including tough mudder, spartan races, colour runs etc) are all areas that align with sports nutrition and offer opportunities for brands.

Careful expansion needed

The main challenge for brands will be to avoid overloading their consumers with products to an extent that they lose sight of their original brand identity and target consumer. Adopting an “everything for everyone” approach might seem to be the most profitable option as the consumer base for sports nutrition continues to evolve and diversify demographically. However, a better strategy in order to stand the test of time and build brand credibility may be to consider a carefully curated selection of products. This involves focussing on the key selling point of the brand and which consumer segment it appeals to. Looking to the future, knowing the consumer is imperative as sports nutrition continues to grow and find its feet as a mainstream market.