The demand for sports nutrition is moving from the gym to the mainstream, with sales in the category increasing by nearly 30% last year. Donna Ahern reports.
The increase in demand for sports nutrition supplements and protein- enriched products such as shakes and powder continues.
Sales of products in the sports nutrition category are maintaining their strong upward trajectory.
Research conducted by NielsenIQ on behalf of Checkout shows that the protein bars market alone was worth €33 million in the 52 weeks to 1 January 2023 across total Scantrack (which is made up of multiples, symbols and forecourts) in the Republic of Ireland. Sales were up by 28.9% in 2022 compared to 2021.
The hyper-portable and energy-packed protein snack bars are particularly appealing to the sports enthusiasts and busier consumers.
This is a trend that grocery retailers are very aware of, as the point of purchase in the majority of outlets across the country is now stacked with a vast array of different brands to cater for the demand for protein-enriched products.
With this in mind, it is interesting to note that sales of protein bars across forecourts was worth a staggering €14.3 million in the
52 weeks to 1 January 2023, which is a 26.2% increase compared to 2021.
Looking at sales within the multiples, the protein bars category was worth €9.3 million during the same period (up by 26.1%) and €9.5 million across the symbols sector, which showed a 36.3% increase compared to 2021.
Last year, the Special Dietary Products category secured the number-35 position in Checkout’s Top 100 Categories, part of the Checkout Top 100 Brands 2022 publication, which Checkout produces annually in association with NielsenIQ.
In 2021, the category stood at number 41 in the rankings, which shows that the demand for protein products is going from strength to strength.
According to the most recent Bord Bia report, titled Performance Nutrition, sports nutrition remains the fastest-growing consumer health category for several years in a row.
The data indicates that almost half (47%) of established Irish consumers (those who have been taking sports nutrition supplements for more than 12 months) have increased the amount of money they are spending on sports nutrition products.
Interestingly, the report reveals that, when it
comes to the future growth outlook, the Republic of Ireland appears to have the strongest appetite for performance nutrition products.
Analysis of Google search data by Financial World reveals that searches for ‘gym membership’ exploded by 234% in the UK as of January 2023.
This means that searches for ‘gym membership’ rose to over double the average volume within the past month, an unprecedented increase in the British public looking to start training at the gym.
It comes as many Britons turn to gyms and fitness centres in their attempts to maintain their health-related New Year’s resolutions. The data also revealed that searches for ‘gyms near me’ are similarly at an all-time high.
Closer to home, Dublin gym owner and CEO of DEFIANT Water, Aidan Roche, who has been in the fitness industry over 12 year, has witnessed a notable upsurge in gym memberships over the past year.
Speaking with Checkout, Aidan described himself as “a health advocate with good knowledge in fitness, nutrition and wellbeing.”
Commenting on his gym business, Aidan tells us, “The Feel Fit name came about seven years ago while I was a personal trainer. For normal, everyday clients, 90% of them just want to feel good inside, and feel energised and more positive.
“I opened my first gym four years ago and I have seen the business grow, year on year, as more people realise that even a little regular exercise helps mentally and physically, and that there is also a big social dimension to training. I expect to open another two over the next two years.”
Natural Sources Of Protein
What natural source of protein should athletic or avid gym-going consumers consume before training? “It depends on what people are trying to achieve, and a trainer can look at nutrition as much as fitness regimes,” says Aidan.
“I usually wouldn't suggest protein immediately before training, but it should be a big aspect of overall diet. I would suggest consuming natural protein, like eggs, chicken, lean meat, pulses or nuts, within 30 minutes post-training.”
For active consumers, who need to grab a snack or a drink before training, what source of protein, should they grab on-the-go? “A packet of mixed nuts is always good as they contain protein, carbs and fat,” he suggests.
“There are handy shakes and bars, but you need to be very careful with some, to ensure they are all-natural. A nutritionist or trainer will advise you!”
Gyms were closed and matches cancelled during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
Since the lifting of restrictions, Aidan has witnessed a noticeable increase in the amount of people joining his gym and seeking advice on losing weight that they may have put on due to limited activity during the government lockdowns.
“I feel health has hit home with nearly everyone now, due to lockdown,” he says.
“A lot more people are talking to me about the immune system and how to boost it. People need to realise that activity is not just about the body, but about what is released in the brain. Apart from the physical benefits of strength training, including its impact on cardiovascular health, feel-good hormones from exercise are powerful.
“A lot more gym goers are looking for natural healthier snacks and the simplest
solution is to go for fresh unprocessed foods that we would have in the fridge or cupboards. Nuts, seeds, chopped fruit and vegetables, as well as lean meats, are great, and the supermarkets are responding with prepared meals and salads that lead on protein for energy and essential minerals,” he says.
Advice For Retailers
Protein supplements, such as bars at the till in stores, protein shakes at gyms, and powders at pharmacies are now commonplace. What advice would Aidan give to retailers who are interested in stocking such items in-store?
“It is good that customers are looking for healthier snacks on-the-go, and, like a consumer, the retailer will benefit from taking a little advice from a fitness or nutrition expert on which are the better, healthier, most natural options,” he says.
“The best margin may not be the best healthy option, and the growing interest in health and nutrition means shoppers will start to avoid a brand if it also has questionable ingredients. It is definitely a boom sector though. Over time, the amount of space that the healthier snacks take up will be on a par with the traditional snacks, like crisps or chocolate. Having them in the right location and handy to purchase at tills may just see the kids of today start pestering for some trail mix, rather than a bar of chocolate!”
Through its annual supplier development programme, Grow with Aldi, the discounter champions emerging Irish artisan producers by offering their products a valuable national platform.
This platform has served as a springboard to success in the wider market for countless brands, including brands in the protein space.
For example, take 26-year-old Matthew Collins of The Sibly Food Company in Co Cork.
Matthew started making protein energy balls for his friends and classmates in college. After selling them at a Christmas market, he started receiving hundreds of orders per week and developed a loyal customer base around Cork and Kerry.
Matthew was selected to take part in Grow with Aldi last year and saw his products stocked on shelves nationwide. He was then selected as one of five winners for the Grow with Aldi 2022 programme and awarded a core contract.
His success, with the support of Aldi, is testament to the increasing demand for protein-enriched products in Ireland.
“As a college student, I struggled to find a natural snacking option that is not packed full of preservatives and, as a student on a tight budget, I needed something which was budget friendly,” he says.
“This led to some trials, and lots of errors, in my college kitchen to develop a snack that I could simply bring to lectures or use before training. I then saw the gap in the market based on the needs and demands in my own friend group. Once I started selling them to friends, family and teammates, it became clear that there was a market. I knew the health food space would be challenging to break into," he added.
"There was a perception that the texture and taste of healthy snacks could not match sweeter, highly processed snacks, but after extensive revisions of the recipe, I was confident I had cracked it! I knew that once I could get the product into the hands of consumers, the quality and taste would speak for itself.
“I applied for the Grow with Aldi programme in early 2022, which was a huge help in propelling my business forward in a very competitive market. As a successful finalist, I had my products stocked in over 150 Aldi stores nationwide for a two-week period last May. The mentorship and support I received as a participant was invaluable and gave me the tools I needed to grow and learn, while also getting my products in the hands of customers across the country. To be named a winner of Grow with Aldi for 2022 and earning a core contract with the company was the icing on the cake!”
Matthew’s success story is reassuring and sends a clear message to other brands in this space, and to retailers, that there will be a healthy demand for protein-enriched products over the coming years.
Read More: Ireland's Top 5 Protein Bars Go From Strength To Strength
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