An industry study has found that 41% of sports nutrition shoppers still consider flavour to be a significant factor with food and drink purchases, including snacks-based ranges, behind health benefits and cost considerations, writes Neill Barston.
The latest research from Innova Market Research found that the segment has gained more mainstream prominence, with wellbeing proving a major factor for consumers amid the ongoing pandemic.
Chocolate remains an important go-to flavour while, at the same time, hazelnut flavours have benefited from chocolate-hazelnut combinations inspired by chocolate spreads and confectionery.
As the organisation noted, millennials are not only the most adventurous consumer group when it comes to flavour, but also the most likely to include sports nutrition products in a typical grocery basket. This has strongly driven the move to new and modern flavours in preference to more traditional tastes.
Consequently, mainstream flavour blends are gaining ground, with greater attention to more complex and complementary tastes. Among the organisation’s notable findings, citrus and tropical fruit also have positive energy connotations, while in broader terms, spiciness/sharpness was seen as particularly energising, ahead of sweet flavour options.
At the same time, traditional brown and vanilla options are facing rising competition from fruit, nut and novelty tastes. Fruit and nuts offer a healthy image, but can also add indulgence, as well as fulfilling the rising demand for more natural, vegan and plant-based products. Meanwhile NPD is also taking inspiration from other food and drinks markets.
Significantly, hybridisation is already a top trend and the influence on flavour use in sports nutrition is rising as the category moves further into the mainstream and we start to see brand crossovers.
Trust and familiarity gained in using flavours from other recognised brands makes it likely that further brand extension and co-branding will be used. There are already signs that mainstream firms are ready to explore opportunities in this area, not only taking direct steps into sports nutrition themselves, but also opting for licensing deals for the use of their flavours and brands by existing sports nutrition specialists.
The Covid-19 effect
The Covid-19 pandemic is also impacting the direction of flavour choices in sports nutrition, with interest in immune health particularly relevant. In 2020, immune health claims boosted their penetration in sports nutrition launches from 7% to almost 12%, driving the use of immune healthy flavours and ingredients.
Citrus fruits will continue to lead, with high consumer recognition of their vitamin content and immune benefits, while antioxidant-rich berries and green tea and antibacterial honey and ginger are also likely to perform well.
Meanwhile, higher levels of comfort eating since the pandemic is driving nostalgia and increased indulgence in flavour choices. This will push more familiar flavour options from sweet treats categories into the sports nutrition area, as has already been seen in North America with candy, cake and dessert variants.