After a Saturday morning bike ride, my friends and I had a conversation about energy and the best foods to eat to power our cycling performance. This discussion got me thinking about the various definitions of energy in the sports category and the array (or lack) of products available.
Energy in general is a large and successful market. According to HealthFocus International’s “Global Energy Revolution” report, “energy” is among consumers' top five or six needs. And Technavio’s “Global Sports and Energy Drinks Market 2018-2022” predicts the market will grow by US$46.67 billion during that time frame. On-the-go consumption is one of the key trends in the sports and energy drinks market, which is likely to stimulate the demand and overall market growth during the forecast period.
Energy can come in various forms, each with unique benefits:
All these benefits link to performance, which is important to amateur athletes and the sport-active sector alike.
Traditionally, the energy market largely has comprised “quick energy” caffeine-based drinks. However, increasing numbers of people are seeking energy not from carbonated caffeinated drinks, but from something more natural. As with all consumers, amateur athletes and sport-actives are becoming more skeptical about sugar and question the role of carbohydrates in their diets as trends around keto grow.
So, what is the best source of energy for the athlete and sport-active crowd?
According to a report covering the role of carbohydrates and sugars in sports nutrition by Gareth A. Wallis, Ph.D., from the School of Sport, Exercise & Rehabilitation Sciences in Birmingham, UK, carbohydrate is the predominant fuel used during intense sporting activities, and adequate carbohydrate availability is critical for sustained optimal performance.
Carbohydrates, along with proteins and fats, are the main nutrients in the diet that provide energy. The body stores carbohydrates as glycogen in the muscles and liver, but storage capacity is limited (e.g., liver glycogen is depleted after about 28 hours of fasting). As exercise intensity increases, so does the reliance on carbohydrate fuel stores. Therefore, keeping these stores adequately stocked is crucial for athletes who need to perform at high intensities.
If body carbohydrate stores are inadequate for an athlete, it can result in fatigue, reduced training ability, impaired performance and reduced immune system function, which can impact recovery. Thus, it is important for athletes to develop pre-, during and post-workout/event carbohydrate intake goals. Sugars are one of a variety of options to help achieve these goals.
However, when it comes to sugar, this audience is seeking natural sources, and natural energy is becoming a big trend. Sport-active people and athletes are seeking something they recognize as food, with familiar ingredients in “normal” food and beverage packaging. They don't want chemical-looking sports brands loaded with unfamiliar ingredients.
For example, look at dates. Despite weighing in at 60% sugar, the fact that the sugar in date fruit is naturally present increases perception of dates being a good source of natural energy and an acceptable sweetener. The logic is powerful—driving sales and use of dates as an ingredient in the sports performance market.
For companies looking to develop energy products for the sport-active/amateur athlete, key takeaways include:
- Do consumer research. The energy message appeals to sport-actives and amateur athletes in general, but insights gained from research of your target consumer will guide the specific positioning of your product. The repositioning on an energy platform was made possible because it emerged from consumer research.
- Focus your message and formulate your product using natural energy. Natural energy is what consumers want. Not many brands focus on a natural energy message, but those that do have found success by offering a single-serve product that's easy to consume on the go, and using natural ingredients that hold a health halo—such as dates, honey, and other fruit- or nut-based options.
- Make sure the product tastes great. It can’t be overstated. A product must perform so well on taste that people would be willing to buy it again even if it didn’t carry a natural energy message. Although taste is subjective, what matters is that it scores high among your target consumers.
Geri Berdak is president of CloverQuest Group, which helps companies navigate the dynamic food/wellness landscape. A nutritionist and classically trained marketer, she partners with her clients to create brand positioning, identify which products to offer and determine the best way to take them to market so that they are highly consumer relevant, and strategically linked to the client’s brand image.