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Sports Nutrition: 2016 Year in Review

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by Steve Myers -

The sports nutrition market enjoyed increasing popularity and sales growth in 2016, but for all the market gains, the segment still struggles with legal and regulatory issues.

The word from market research data is that the sports nutrition market will grow from US$28 billion in 2015 to more than $50 billion in 2022 (P&S Market Research). Analysts predicted robust sector growth representing an 8.4 percent compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2015 to 2022.

The United States again was the largest market for sports products with a current growth value of 12 percent, according to Euromonitor International’s recent report “Sports Nutrition in the U.S." The market research firm reported the expanding sports nutrition consumer demographic as a primary driver, and labeled younger generations (25 to 34 year olds) as the primary targeted demographic. Still, it noted middle-aged adults are becoming more active and are turning to sports nutrition products to add or maintain lean muscle mass and improve exercise. See related market data in the Energy and Performance Digital Issue, page 31.

Consumer Trends

During the Expo West trade show in Anaheim, California, earlier this year, David Sandler from Strengthpro.com told INSIDER (video) that consumers across the many sports nutrition subgroups (bodybuilders, athletes, weight watchers, weekend warriors, etc.) all want innovative products that work (i.e. backed by science and research) and are certified safe for sport. Branded ingredients are increasingly preferred. Sandler further noted consumers welcome new technology, especially in the delivery of the products. Unlike traditional delivery, innovative new products feature new flavor technologies and delivery methods such as shaker cups, and “now taste good and are fun to consume."

An example of such clever new technology is this year’s SupplySide West Editor’s Choice Awards Sports Nutrition Winner, Regimen Whey with GPAC Technology. This product features protein in a pouch for convenience (drop, shake and go) and dosing control.

New Ingredients and Technologies

Innovation was also apparent on the ingredient side. Some innovative new ingredients released in 2016 included whey flavor technology and cucumber extract.

Glanbia Nutritionals launched EasyFlav™ Whey flavor technology, which replaces the traditional carbohydrates core with added protein and stable flavor; this results in a clean label whey protein product with increased protein and as much as 30 percent less carbohydrate content. The new technology is derived from existing vegetable-protein-neutralizing EasyFlav technology and was adapted to whey production to help food manufacturers include high levels of whey protein and still deliver a consistent, appealing flavor.

XSTO Solutions partnered with Switzerland’s Naturalea SA to bring a special cucumber extract to North America. Cuvitus™ (known as Crownhealth Gherkin in Europe) is a whole fruit extract made from a special cultivar of cucumber (Cucumis sativa) and was designed to provide relief from temporary muscle and joint pain resulting from exercise. The extract was developed in cooperation with university and research center partners, and a proprietary extraction process results in constituent cofactors that inhibit TNF-alpha (tumor necrosis factor-alpha), a cytokine (signaling molecule) that centrally regulates inflammation.

Additional emerging ingredients included shilajit, a type of mineral pitch or rock humus found in the Himalayan Mountains in India and useful not just as a testosterone booster, but also as a booster of nitric oxide (NO), exercise and performance, and collagen.

And while plant protein continued to gain steam in the sports nutrition market, insect protein also continued to work its way into sports products, including the ever-evolving bar products. This unique protein is commonly derived from crickets, a sustainable and eco-friendly source (video), and results in a powder that is easy to use in formulations and is surprisingly flavor-friendly.

For more on innovative ingredients in the sports market, check out INSIDER’s special digital feature Innovative Sports Ingredients.

Science and Research

Addressing the demand for efficacious ingredients backed by science and research, numerous publications on an array of ingredients with sports benefits surfaced in 2016. While you can find hundreds such research papers in sports-specific research journals such as the Journal for the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JIISN), here is a quick rundown of the highlights from sports nutrition product/ingredient research in 2016:

For deeper exploration of the latest research on ingredients in specific areas of sports nutrition, check out our 2016 digital publications on recoveryenergy/performance and joint health. We also published some great updates on the science behind beta-alanine and ashwagandha.

The Business of Sports Nutrition

Ingredient and product technology trends are always sought after information for formulators down through retailers and consumers, but there is much that happens on the supply side of the sports nutrition market that helps shape the companies and brands that connect with consumers. This year was as active a year as any in terms of partnerships, litigation and regulatory actions.

While companies continue to pair up, especially internationally, to bring new products to the sports market—see Chromadex and BPI Sports partnership on no-flush niacin—the biggest pairing of the year has to be the colossal merger between the leading sports distributors Europa Sports and Lone Star. Speaking on the distribution panel during the SupplySide West “Business of Sports Nutrition" workshop in October 2016, Europa CEO Eric Hillman reported the two merging companies would create the largest sports nutrition distributor in the United States, combining 45 years of experience and accounting for 16,500 customers, $400 million in revenues, 700,000 orders and 450 employees at nine locations nationwide.

Similarly newsworthy was the acquisition of global milk protein supplier Milk Specialties by a NY-based private equity firm, American Securities, in summer 2016. It was previously owned by Kainos Captial, which also owned several natural health brands including Earthbound Farms Organic and InterHealth (since sold to Lonza).

A necessary factor in the nutritional products business, especially sports nutrition, is legal and regulatory. This industry sees a ton of competitor lawsuits, as well as federal legal cases brought by FDA, FTC or DOJ (Justice Department). Of course, the feds bring cases as last steps in a sequence of enforcement actions that can span years.

Among the competitors taking each other to court in 2016, contract manufacturer Capstone Nutrition sued MusclePharm for alleged breaches of contract, including failure to pay for more than $22 million of product and failure to adhere to contracted purchase minimums that had prompted Capstone to expand its facilities to meet. MusclePharm has been undergoing a total restructuring of its business, including the departure of its founder Brad Pyatt, and its interim management settled with Capstone in November 2016 for $11 million and the rights to purchase more than 1.2 million in MusclePharm stocks at a special price.

Also in 2016, Phoenix-based Thermolife International continued to take legal action against competitors for alleged false advertising and unfair competition. It sued New Jersey-based MHP LLC for allegedly marketing and selling nitrate supplements that do not contain meaningful amounts of nitrates and nitrites.

The year’s litigation watch saw another competitor lawsuit get the judicial nod to proceed, following a failed motion to dismiss. Similar to Thermolife’s legal pursuits, Nutrition Distribution had been going after competitors for alleged wrongdoings including the sale of Ostarine, a selective androgen receptor modulator (SARM) being investigated as a drug—this makes it illegal as a dietary ingredient. Its lawsuit against IronMagLabs was dismissed in April 2016, but its lawsuit against Custom Nutraceuticals LLC, JRM Nutrasciences and Jason Mancuso (dba DNA Pharma) for selling Ostarine was given the OK to move forward.

After having only sent one warning letter on ostarine back in 2014, word surfaced in May 2016 that FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigation (OCI) was looking into dietary supplements containing SARMs, including Ostarine, which is a the brand name for the compound enobosarm being developed by Memphis, Tennessee-based GTx, Inc.—research has focused on cancer cachexia (muscle wasting), breast cancer and stress urinary incontinence.

In 2016, FDA took a slightly stronger action against products labeled as containing Acacia rigidula, which the agency said is a new dietary ingredient (NDI) requiring notification. The agency sent warning letters to several companies, advising their products were adulterated due to a lack of any NDI notification, and told the companies to cease distributing the products. The previous year, FDA had warned companies that products labeled as containing BMPEA derived from A. rigidula were misbranded because BMPEA was not found to be a constituent of A. rigidula and thus did not qualify as a dietary ingredient.

The feds previously had taken action against anabolic steroids (Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004) and prohormones (Designer Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2014, DASCA), and 2016 saw a sweep by FDA and DOJ including companies selling supplements adulterated with anabolics or pharmaceuticals. They also went after executives at those companies.

In July 2016, FDA and DOJ indicted two sports nutrition execs—John Wesley Houser IV and Beny Mesika, founders of Durcaps Labs, Active Sports Nutrition and Adrenaline Nutrition Supplements—for conspiracy to illegally sell steroids. The charges potentially carry substantial jail time and monetary penalties.

FDA was not successful in 2016 at shutting down another contract manufacturer tied to a alleged illegal activities surrounding OxyElite Pro, a DMAA-containing sports supplement associated with a severe liver disease outbreak in 2013. While still in legal battle with the product’s manufacturer USPlabs, the agency also indicted the product’s contract manufacturer SK Labs and filed a motion in summer 2016 asking the court to shut down SK Labs. However, the judge in the case ruled there was no evidence to show SK Labs was still operating illegally and currently would be the “a menace to the health of American consumers," FDA claimed.

Of course, as sports nutrition becomes more popular around the world, including a Chinese market clamoring for foreign brands, regulatory considerations can become more challenging. China introduced a new sports supplement safety standard to combat unauthorized selling, especially online and including counterfeits. An English translation was made available in mid-2016 from the U.S.-China Health Products Association (USCHPA).

This year in review merely scrapes the surface of the sports nutrition market’s 2016 highlights (and lowlights). To stay updated, follow INSIDER’s Sports Nutrition Channel and consider all the sports-specific programming we are planning for upcoming trade shows including Ingredient Marketplace and SupplySide West.

For context, feel free to check out last year’s review (a nifty Prezi presentation) as well as the category predictions and regulatory outlook for 2016.

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