Once the preserve of serious athletes and bodybuilders, sports nutrition products and those enhanced with protein are fast reaching a wider audience.
Driven by growing interest in personal health and awareness of the role of nutrition in supporting fitness and wellbeing, mainstream audiences are increasingly turning to protein-based foods, drinks and supplements. This mass-market development presents a major opportunity for sports nutrition manufacturers to extend into weight management products and target a wider audience.
Across the world, lifestyle and demographic changes are sparking increased consumer interest in products that can support healthier lifestyles and aspirational athletic endeavours.
Indeed, the global market for sports nutrition was valued at US$29.74 billion in 2013 and is expected to reach US$52.55 billion by 2020, growing at a CAGR of 8.5 percent from 2014 to 2020, with Asia Pacific cited by many as the fastest growing region.
According to a report published by Persistence Market Research, the Asia Pacific market for sports nutrition is largely driven by high population growth, high-profile sporting events, low per capita consumption, and rising disposable incomes.
These factors are thought to be attracting manufacturers of sports nutrition products to invest heavily in regions such as China and India. For many in this growing market, taste, in particular, counts. In fact, research has found it to be the most common factor when selecting a sports nutrition product.
As well as its well-known benefits for sport recovery and muscle development, the roles protein can play in satiety and weight management are becoming better known for a number of reasons.
The halo effect of these multiple benefits is impacting the number of products launched with an ‘enhanced protein’ positioning, with Mintel reporting 269 of food launches in Asia-Pacific featuring this claim in 2015 so far—a 15 percent increase over the same period of 2014.
Weight management retail sales reached US$163 billion globally in 2013, with Asia Pacific contributing 12 percent and showing the fastest value growth with 57 percent between 2008 and 2013, according to Euromonitor.
Japan is leading the weight management market in Asia Pacific, accounting for 29 percent of retail value sales in 2013. Image-consciousness and a broader interest in health and wellness are thought to account for the growing interest of Japanese consumers in products that help them to lose weight.
India and China—where problems with obesity and overweight are more pronounced—generated the second and third highest retail value sales of weight management products in Asia Pacific in 2013. Increasing disposable incomes in these countries is deemed to play a key role in opening up the market for weight management products.
Expanding Market, New Options
Simultaneously, scientific research is continuing to reveal new insights into the full benefits of nutritional ingredients. This, in turn, is driving innovation in sports nutrition formulation and segmentation. As the functional properties and efficacy of novel ingredients become better understood, manufacturers are developing ever more advanced bases tailored to specific performance requirements and objectives.
While whey protein is still central to many products, ingredients such as branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), fast-acting carbohydrates and creatine are increasingly used as core components in nutritional product bases. Highly customised combinations of ingredients are being incorporated into products catering for pre, during and post exercise requirements.
Ingredients that provide a rapid energy boost, such as creatine, caffeine and various amino acids, are packed in pre-workout bases. High quality protein sources, such as whey, meanwhile, are more commonly used in post-workout muscle recovery products. Specialist diet or weight gain formulations will also include a wide range of additional proven ingredients, from conjugated linoleic acid to insulin.
While these advanced combinations of proven ingredients ensure that specialised products can support consumers to meet their health and performance goals more efficiently, the increasingly complex nutritional bases are making the task of flavouring products even more challenging.
Demand For Innovation
Changing audience expectations and growing mainstream acceptance of nutritional products is driving demand for flavour innovation. Consumers of pre-workout products, for example, tend to look for refreshing and lighter fruity flavours, which are less likely to leave them feeling bloated before exercise.
These products often contain very complex bases with a multitude of ingredients, meaning flavours also need to provide more intensity to complement and mask challenging underlying profiles.
More traditional products, such as protein shakes, meanwhile, are increasingly positioned for everyday consumption. Consumers are looking for more exciting products which are great tasting, as well as providing a nutritional boost.
Manufacturers are therefore working to introduce new innovative flavour combinations, commonly based on popular sweet flavours and concepts. New options currently reaching the market include flavours such as Neapolitan, blueberry cheesecake and raspberry doughnut, for example.
When opting for more classic profiles, such as vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, consumers are also beginning to look for authentic and recognisable flavour variations, such as ‘creamy’ or ‘beany’ vanilla.
Other, more unusual flavour options are also emerging. In Australia, sport nutrition brand Aussie Bodies recently launched a new superfoods protein blend. Pairing a high protein whey blend with a combination of well-known superfoods, including spinach, broccoli, carrot, tomato and green tea, the blend focuses on nutrition and health, while offering a unique and unusual taste experience.
Additionally, the core sports nutrition market still contains non-natural flavours. However, consumers are starting to show interest in naturally flavoured and sweetened products.
According to Datamonitor, the presence of ‘natural’ ingredients is a highly influential factor for 68 percent of consumers who buy products that improve energy and stamina. Delivering this can create challenges with both cost and flavour delivery.
Many of the consumers attracted by the weight management benefits of protein are relying on snacks during and between meal times to help them to increase their intake.
Products such as bread, soup and porridge are reaching the market with an enhanced protein content enabling consumers to start their day with the nutritional benefits they want in mind. Between meals, snacks such as popcorn are even being fortified with protein, pointing to its ever-increasing, everyday appeal.
Nutrition manufacturers are therefore turning to flavour specialists to support them in differentiating their products while delivering impactful and appealing taste.
Science Of Great Taste
A firm understanding of a product’s base is crucial to delivering the desired flavour profile. As bases in modern nutrition products become more complex, ingredients need to be highly tailored to complement underlying sensory matrices to ensure the flavour shines through in the end product.
When creating a new flavour profile for a protein-enriched product, in-depth analysis of the key flavour descriptors of a specific base is necessary. By pinpointing and mapping inherent sensory characteristics, flavours can then be tailored for the exact task in-hand and with specific parameters in mind.
Flavourings can then be developed to complement the characteristics of a specific product base, masking less desirable notes and providing a high impact, lasting taste. Flavours are tailored to work with the descriptor matrix of a base and, through sensory testing, are adjusted until the desired profile is achieved.
The best results are delivered through close partnership working between manufacturer and flavour specialist. As products become more specialised and complex, shared expertise and technical collaboration through the product development process is key to creating an end result that delivers on both taste and performance.
As the sports nutrition and weight management markets continue to overlap and expand into the mainstream, new opportunities are opening up for innovative manufacturers to differentiate their products with interesting and unusual new flavour concepts.
However, the need to create ever more complex bases to keep up with the latest science and market segmentation poses particular challenges for appealing flavour creation. Flavour specialists can help manufacturers deliver appealing and differentiated taste profiles without compromising performance.