At the Leatherhead Food Research conference ‘Food for Sport: The Winning Formula’, industry stakeholders and scientists discussed broadening the appeal of the category to capitalise upon a wider desire amongst consumers for performance products.
Sports nutrition products are developed to cater for demand in four broad areas: weight management, hydration, energy release and recovery.
Leatherhead’s own statistics show that the UK sports nutrition market is currently worth around £250m, with growth of more than 30% projected over the next three years.
In product terms beverages account for £164m of this market, with GlaxoSmithKline’s isotonic glucose-based energy drink Lucozade alone accounting for 72% of the spend. Other products include chewing gums, soluble sports tablets, gels and sweets.
Traditional macho category
However, according to Tom Ellis, strategy and research director at brand agency 1HQ: “Despite the growing global worth of the market, women-specific products represent only a tiny part of it.”
Simon Jurkiw, research and education manager at sports nutrition supplier MaxiMuscle – traditionally renowned for its alpha male marketing images that emphasise muscle size and strength – told delegates that the firm had recently broadened its product range and was keen to shed its macho image, given that “building muscle doesn’t appeal either to women or endurance athletes”.
Maximuscle now has a Maxitone brand that emphasises, “weight loss, body toning and well-being” and a more male-oriented Maxifuel banner, which concentrates on “boosting energy and stimulating recovery”.
In an industry where offerings were split between “100% researched products and others that are cutting edge,” said Jerkow, Maximuscle sees “more basic” product offerings as viable way of attracting “average gym goers”.
Attracted by a “basic carbohydrate or protein drinks for post exercise”, he said, it was hoped that such consumers might later perceive the benefits of MaxiMuscle’s ‘performance’ nutrients such as amino acid-based HMB and creatine.
What women want?
Ellis said that 56% of UK women partake in sport at least once a month, with yoga, keep fit, swimming and cycling favourite activities.
But the “aggressive coding” of nutrition products did not reflect this shift, said Ellis, and “companies need to realise that it isn’t enough to simply repackage products in pink and expect them to appeal."
Compare the 2000s with the 1960s, he said, and it is now socially acceptable for women to have muscles, express controlled aggression and partake in ‘male’ team sports and activities such as body pump.
“Women desire products that emphasise goals, performance, yes, but also more subtle messages emphasising group activity and less aggressive exercise targets stressing toning, shape and ‘self actualisation’.
“To reach women it’s critical to balance ‘male’ and ‘female’ semiotic codes that reinforce ideas about gender – where most of us respond to cues from both – and ask ‘who do you want to reach with this product?’, and what is your point of difference in a competitive context?”
Ellis’ address was hailed by one delegate, who said that broadening the appeal of sports nutrition as a category was the “only way of dragging it out its current ditch”.
Another said: “We’ve spoken all day about sports nutrition, but perhaps ‘sports’ presents the wrong brand image and we should talk instead about ‘activity’ in general.”