Seeking better performance: How to create a winning sports nutrition section

Seeking better performance: How to create a winning sports nutrition section

Find success in your sports nutrition category with help from innovative delivery formats, category insights and product mixes just as unique as your potential sports nutrition consumers.

By Allison Tannis, BSC MSC RHN


Since 2010, sports nutrition has slowly, yet successfully, moved from niche markets, such as gyms and health food stores, to mass-market channels. Today, sports nutrition products can be found in convenience stores, drug stores and supermarkets, satisfying consumer demand for health and lifestyle products.

Where are the greatest sales in this category seen? Sports nutrition product demand is greatest in the western parts of Canada and the United States. Reports also suggest that sports nutrition demand is stronger in urban areas than rural.

The sports nutrition category will continue to grow over the next few years. In Canada, sales in this category are expected to see a compound annual growth rate of four per cent to reach $240 million in 2018.


Driving forces

According to Agriculture Canada’s report on Global Sports Nutrition, consumers are demanding innovative new ingredients with a proven ability to help build muscle and improve endurance. Examples include hormone boosters and joint care products.

New growth will come not only through the traditional sports nutrition customer base (professional athletes, serious gym members and body builders), yet also through mainstream consumers wanting to improve personal appearance and address health concerns. For example, the recent increase in popularity of high protein diets, such as the Paleo diet, has amplified the number of consumers looking for protein-rich foods to promote weight loss and wellness. In addition, the anti-wheat movement propelled by the bestselling book Wheat-Belly is driving new demand for protein-rich sports nutrition products. Older consumers are another group who seek out protein-rich products for wellness.

It is clear that the number of consumers interested in sports nutrition products is growing. Marathons are attracting record numbers. CrossFit and other exercise trends are holding strong, while a growing number of yoga and pilates studios continue to open in cities across the country. Accordingly, retail success will come to stores that are able to connect with potential customers who are outside of the traditional consumer base. For example, the recent success of pre- and post-workout products is because they meet the performance needs of professional athletes and gym-goers, with the convenience and taste profile desired by recreational athletes. Pre-workout products provide energy while supporting muscle endurance, strength, mental focus and fatigue resistance, for consumers of sports nutrition products that are dedicated to achieving results quickly. Most pre-workout formulas come in powder format. For post-workout, consumers can benefit from amino acid blends that help reduce muscle breakdown and support the construction of lean muscle mass.

Meanwhile, joint care supplements help serious athletes address injuries that are caused by or hinder athletic performance. Try merchandising products that contain celadrin or resveratrol for customers who suffer from joint issues alongside traditional sports nutrition products to create a one-stop shop for athletes.

Today’s sports nutrition category targets four different segments: bodybuilders, professional athletes, recreational athletes and lifestyle users. Lifestyle users are consumers who do not use sports nutrition products for sport or exercise purposes. Instead they use them as a beverage, meal replacement or healthy snack.

The lines between the consumer groups are blurring. The newer consumer groups, recreational and lifestyle users are getting a lot of attention from marketers. A common example is how current advertisements often feature everyday people being active, rather than famous athletes.


New players to watch for

Consumers are shifting away from synthetic products and seeking out foods and supplements that are more natural. Sports nutrition manufacturers recognize this shift towards more natural ingredients and retailers will see these new products being launched in the coming year.

In addition, sports nutrition manufacturers have been focusing on creating better tasting products in an effort to meet the needs of the newer consumer groups. Chews and water additions are examples of new products created to meet the demand for convenient, lifestyle sport nutrition products from this consumer segment.


The most dedicated players

Despite this shift towards recreational and lifestyle consumers in the sports nutrition category, it remains important for retail outlets to maintain a focus on the traditional consumers. Serious athletes want more effective, targeted sports nutrition products. Keep the attention of bodybuilders and athletes by highlighting new and innovative products with proven effectiveness. Serious athletes will be more loyal to retail locations which they consider to be a resource of information.

This category is shifting towards more natural products such as vegetarian or vegan proteins, which are commonly found at traditional health food stores. Sports nutrition consumers also seem to be increasing their understanding and purchases of foundational supplements (multivitamins, fish oil and probiotics). Market trends are suggesting that great potential to increase sales of sports nutrition products exists for traditional health food retailers.


Creating a winning line-up

When deciding which products to include in your sports nutrition category, consider proven winners and areas of growth. Powders are the leading format in sports nutrition and are projected to remain the leader in Canada over the next three years. According to Euromonitor International, powder sales are expected to grow at about four per cent, reaching about $155 million in 2018.

A winning line up of powders at retail includes specialized proteins to help attract new demographics, such as pea protein for vegetarian consumers, or egg protein for Paleo dieters.

New product development and consumer interest in convenience products are expected to create growth in ready-to-drink products and non-protein products. According to the 2014 Euromonitor International report on Sports Nutrition in Canada, “Non-protein products such as pre-workout amino acids, BCAAs, and products based on electrolytes are seeing more demand, especially on the part of the frequent gym-goer.”

Retailers can expect more food manufacturers to introduce new products for the mass market that target the growing number of recreational and lifestyle consumers, such as mini-energy bars.


The cheaters

The greatest problem facing retailers of sports nutrition products today is deciphering the bogus products from the effective ones. Unfortunately, the sports nutrition category contains claims that are based on only preliminary animal studies or, even worse, just made up. In addition, there are ways to reduce the cost of a product while making it appear to be of high quality. Glycine, for example, is sometimes added to boost the protein content when a product is tested, thus allowing the manufacturer to use less of a real protein source. A cheaper product with bigger margins is not necessarily the best product to carry. Choosing products with scientific integrity and quality ingredients will boost consumer satisfaction and develop strong repeat sales.


Merchandizing for success

It is likely that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work in a sports nutrition category. Yet, offering products that meet the unique needs of the consumer segments within your retail location may result in success. Jamming a number of whey powders on the shelf below a sign labeled ‘Sports Nutrition’ is not likely to create booming sales.

“Make it as easy as possible for the consumer to find the right product for them,” suggests Renzo Mariani, vice president of sales at Body Plus. For example, when merchandizing your sports nutrition products try to segment within the categories, such as separating proteins by origin.

“Typically for sports nutrition, we separate products by brand,” says Gilles Houde, president and general manager of GNC Canada. He does this because consumers often buy several products across one brand for sports nutrition products, so organizing the category this way allows brand-loyal consumers to easily find what they are looking for within their preferred product line. Houde points out that the sports nutrition category is the only one they organize this way; the store’s vitamin and supplement categories are organized by product or ailment.

It is important to recognize that the new sports nutrition consumers do not necessarily associate their desired product as being a ‘sports nutrition’ product, and thus may not be drawn to a section labeled as such. Retailers may want to consider merchandizing products or creating product sections based on the consumer’s desired results: weight management, endurance or bodybuilding. These formats have experienced successful growth recently. According to Innova Market Insights, in 2013, products for endurance sports grew 64 per cent, products for bodybuilding rose by 25 per cent and products for weight management increased by 11 per cent.

Lastly, do not forget the weekend warriors, on-the-go business people and working mothers who are looking for quick, easy, healthy energy boosts. They are not likely to wander into your sports nutrition section. Attract these recreational and lifestyle users by putting key products onto end aisle displays or point of sale areas, or sampling product in-store to demonstrate the ease of incorporating it into their diets.


Good coaching helps

“Consumers are more knowledgeable today than ever before,” says Mariani. “I think the key for retailers is to effectively communicate product features and benefits as they relate to the consumer’s goals. This includes how the category is merchandized in-store and how knowledgeable staff is about products within the category.“

Educating your retail staff about products is an effective and proven way to increase sales. Most manufacturers have highly trained sales representatives who can help train your staff. Product websites host a wide array of product information and related articles.

According to Houde, the key to a successful sports nutrition category is having a good assortment. “Whether it is protein, workout, pre-workout, have the full assortment and different lines that cater to different types of consumers, such as bodybuilders, CrossFit enthusiasts, or people that just want to add plant-based protein to their diet,” he says. “I think those are the critical elements. And of course, have knowledgeable staff to help customers pick the right products for their needs.”

Helping consumers find product information increases their confidence and likelihood of purchase. At retail level, creating an experience will help drive sales. Encourage staff to be helpful and approachable. Create an environment that consumers want to visit and linger in. Offer paper resources (brochures, books) and consumer seminars, or consider mounting an iPad or other electronic device in your store as a consumer resource.

As for the online consumer, they are looking for websites that are full of useful, easy to find information. Use links to helpful resources (product pages, nutrition expert blogs) on your own website or social media feeds. Engaging with consumers online will keep them interested, heading back to your website frequently. Seek out online consumer engagement that entices consumers to visit your retail location, such as specials or other unique events like speakers who are well known in the sports nutrition industry at your retail location. Making these adjustments will ensure your sports nutrition category is at the top of its game.


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