Three Takeaways from the 2018 Arnold Fitness Expo

The 2018 US Arnold Fitness Expo Show was held from March 2-4, in Columbus, Ohio, as part of The Arnold Sports Festival. In this 2018 edition, over 1,000 sports firms were present at the Fitness Expo where bodybuilders, athletes and fitness enthusiasts from around the world attended to try new products, watch competitions, and meet fitness influencers. This article will highlight three key takeaways from the show.

Keto diet was the central point of discussion

“Keto” was the most common term heard at the expo as an increasing number of bodybuilders and athletes embrace a ketogenic diet as part of their fitness goals to optimize both focus and body energy usage. Companies showcased different products to match keto demand such as Keto Protein Coffee and Keto Protein Chocolate by Ancient Nutrition.

The company, founded by Dr. Josh Axe and author Jordan Rubin, got a lot of attention during the expo with their Keto Protein powders which mix proteins and fats from chicken bone broth with coconut MCTs and energizing herbs. The company claims that Keto Protein helps with mental focus and leads the body to enter the fat burning zone, stimulating ketosis. Keto Protein is being promoted not only as a keto-friendly product but also as a paleo-friendly protein as well.

This Keto movement is relevant to watch because the most common question among bodybuilders during the expo was “How beneficial is it to adopt a keto diet?”. Many athletes and bodybuilding brand ambassadors are promoting it as a way to have more energy and improve concentration. During the rest of 2018 more companies are expected to either launch keto products or reposition existing products to match the keto trend.

Sports nutrition for women is here to stay

With the rising number of women getting into fitness, bodybuilding, and following the trend “strong is the new pretty”, many firms showcased products specifically positioned for women. Many firms at the expo highlighted the fact that they had never seen so many women attending the show, assuring that sports nutrition tailored for women will be on demand.

A popular example at the show was NLA for Her, a firm that solely targets women and which was one of the most-visited booths during the show. The firm promoted two new products at the show, Her Whey Protein Cookies and Her Whey Lean Protein Bars. Both were extremely popular among the audience, with many young women that visited the booth looking for on-the-go sports nutrition products and portable nutrition options. Another popular product at the show was Lil Buff Protein cake mix. It can be argued that a cake mix cannot or should not be positioned for sports nutrition, but at the expo the company was all in promoting it to female bodybuilders looking for healthy desserts. The company has a protein-based cake mix that is based on wholesome ingredients such as ground flax seeds, coconut flour, and whey protein. The mix only needs three ingredients to make the cake (egg whites, milk, and some fruit for sweetness) and it was so popular at the show that as of this writing the company’s website is currently apologizing for their delay in deliveries due to the high order demand it had during the Arnold Fitness Expo.

Similar to Lil Buff Protein cake mix, another dessert-like popular product was G Butter. This firm claims to be the “world’s only nut butter that transforms from a spread into a brownie in 20-30 seconds in the microwave.” G Butter products have only a few ingredients such as nuts, stevia, and whey, and does indeed become a brownie in a few seconds. While this product is not labeled to target women per se, its dessert-like approach made it very popular among female bodybuilders and athletes looking for healthy dessert options.

During 2018, an increasing number of launches are expected that include healthy sports nutrition products for women in fitness who are looking for healthy snacks and healthy desserts. With the line between sports nutrition and healthy desserts getting increasingly blurry at the expo, this presents a challenge not only for sports nutrition firms but also for food companies who are faced with the challenge to offer more “sports nutrition like” products that contain mainly wholefood ingredients, healthy fats, proteins, and flavors that tend to be more popular among women such as chocolate, cookies and cream, and watermelon.

Instagram stars get better customer engagement

While it is a common practice among sports nutrition firms to work with athletes and bodybuilders as brand ambassadors, and popular companies like ON, BSN, Blackstone Labs, Vital Proteins, NLA for Her, and online retailer bodybuilding.com had really long lines of fans trying to get free samples and maybe a picture with a famous athlete, the slowest line with the most committed fans was at the Bowmar Fitness booth.

The company, run by bodybuilder couple Josh and Sarah Bowmar, has one of the most loyal group of followers on Instagram at more than a million engaged fans. They have spent over four years building their online coaching business, which they have expanded into recipe books, a fitness apparel line, and more recently, sports nutrition products. The company launched a Protein Hot Chocolate brand in January 2018 which sold out in eight days.

While many popular athletes were present at other booths, no one had the type of committed fan base that the Bowmar couple had. This was about commitment on both sides; fans waited for hours to talk to the couple, while the couple took the time, proper time, to speak to absolutely everyone who was waiting for them. This is a lesson many other firms and brand ambassadors need to learn: to truly listen to each and every consumer (or potential consumer) pays off. Consumer-centric strategies need to be at the center of sports nutrition firms because building real rapport with consumers builds true long term brand loyalty.

Looking ahead, more sports nutrition products are expected to be positioned around keto diets because athletes and bodybuilders are increasingly switching to this diet. We also expect an increasing amount of products tailored toward women users since more and more females will continue to get into fitness. Coupled to both keto sports nutrition products and sports nutrition positioned towards women, it is forecasted that there will be many more social media fitness influencers launching their own sports nutrition lines, like the Bowmars, to take advantage of both strong fan bases and increasing demand for sports nutrition. Looking ahead, these types of companies could become potential targets for M&As due to the very loyal and engaged group of fans they have.