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Take a Sporting Chance

5/17/2021  By Jeannie Swedberg


Take a Sporting Chance

Sports + Performance Drinks Maintain Market Share

You’d think with the challenging conditions of the past year that the sports/performance drinks segment would have suffered. Gyms and athletic facilities were closed; there’s been a lot of talk of ‘pandemic pounds’ and gaining the COVID 15. And if that weren’t enough, there was a recent study from the American Psychological Association that reported 42% of Americans gained an average of 29 pounds during lockdowns. Instead, despite all of that, the $10.7 million sports/performance drinks segment remained healthy, posting 7% growth in 2020, according to a recently published report from Mintel. 

The 70-page Mintel report went into great detail describing the sports/performance drink market – what it is, what it’s not, who’s the target audience (athletes, avid exercisers), purchase drivers, brand loyalty, the effect of current events, challenges, opportunities, and even consumption frequency. Don’t worry, I’m not going to try and cover all of that – only some topline insights and opportunities.

First for clarity in the context of this blog, here are definitions of what’s included in the segment: 

  • Sports drinks – designed for performance and recovery in physical activity
  • Performance drinks – formulated to enhance sports performance, i.e., pre- and post-workout formulations hydration and protein formulas
  • Not included drinks: enhanced waters, nutritional protein beverages, energy drinks and general health & wellness/functional beverages

Residual pandemic influence

To gauge the impact of the pandemic on market segments, Mintel labeled the remainder of 2021 as a re-emergence period and 2022 forward as recovery. During the re-emergence stage, which we’re in currently, people are hesitant to return to normalcy, continuing to avoid dining out, going to gyms and attending large public gatherings, among other things. The recovery stage looks to a return to normalcy with people going back to pre-COVID behaviors, dining and going out regularly without any reluctance.

Opportunities for sports/performance drinks now, in the re-emergence period, are for functionality. Consumers are still prioritizing health and fitness and want beverages to support their sports activities and well-being. As we move into the recovery period, for the category to grow, Mintel suggests brands/beverages will need to broaden their functionality beyond sports fitness to overall physical well-being. This might include brain health, focus, immune enhancement, and sleep.  

Back to the future

There is still room for category expansion among the fitness minded, as only 55% of this target market agree sports/performance drinks are essential to their regimen. Mintel’s research found sporadic use of sports/performance beverages among the target audience rather than regular consumption.

So how do formulators and marketers attract the remaining audience? Further research from Mintel, suggests that flavor is king, followed by low or no sugar added, and let’s not forget added nutritional benefits. 

Nurturing growth

Thoughtful ingredient use – clean label, natural, and nutrient dense products – will attract users and get repeat business. Ultimately taste wins, though. Even if a beverage ticks all the other boxes with low added sugar, low calorie and nutritional benefits, its taste can’t be ignored. Selecting ingredients, such as fruit, as a base ingredient can solidify a great taste profile in a beverage, and add to its nutritional makeup without added sugars, while at the same time complementing or masking other functional ingredients that may not be as tasty.

Tree Top offers a variety of fruit purees, powders, concentrates, and juices, as well as technical assistance with beverage formulation. Contact us to explore the benefits of fruit in your brand’s sports/performance beverages.

For a detailed glimpse at products with brain health, focus, immune enhancement, check out our recently published Market Trends newsletter.