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COVID-19 Concerns Could Enhance Ongoing Bloom Of Plant-Based Sports Nutrition Sales

Executive Summary

"One of the issues that COVID-19 has brought out is, how safe is the production of animal-based food products?" says Innova Market Insights North America executive Tom Vierhile at AHPA sports nutrition conference.

Sales of plant-based sports nutrition supplements already were growing faster than traditional formulations before the COVID-19 pandemic, which likely will make the products dominant in the category, according to Innova Market Insights research.

During the American Herbal Product Association’s sports nutrition conference on 21 October, Innova Market executive Tom Vierhile noted that sales of plant-based products in the category from 2015 through 2019 increased at a 54.4% compound annual growth rate.

“Probably the biggest trend in sports nutrition is the move to plant-based product formulations,” said Vierhile, the Netherlands firm’s strategic insights vice president for North America.

During his presentation in the one-day conference conducted online, Vierhile also pointed out that the source of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 infections has been linked to meat product processing. “Clearly one of the issues that COVID-19 has brought out is, how safe is the production of animal-based food products? … Certainly, with COVID-19 kind of blossoming in certain meat product plants, consumers would question the safety of meat products.”

According to a Microbiology Australia journal report in March, the coronavirus outbreak was linked epidemiologically to a "seafood and wet animal wholesale market" in Wuhan, China. A week after the market was closed on 1 January the isolation of a previously unknown betacoronavirus was reported as the aetiological agent.

"The outbreak clearly began epidemiologically at the Wuhan market, and a number of environmental samples from around the live animal section of the market were subsequently found to be positive for" COVID-19, according to the report by researchers at Australian universities.

Vegetarian is the fastest growing label claim in the sports nutrition category, such as the myprotein brand spread above, followed closely by joint health, Innova Market Insights data show.


Sports, Vegetarian: No Longer Mutually Exclusive 

Plant-based sport supplement sales increased at around 2.5 times the overall sports category CAGR for 2015-2019, according to Innova Market data. “Plant-based is a trend that’s here to stay,” Vierhile added.

The growth, he said, reflects a change in consumer preferences. Sports nutritionals previously were nearly mutually exclusive from plant-based formulations in consumers’ eyes. But with some professional athletes attesting to be vegetarians or vegans, sports supplement consumers are impressed.

The percentage of sports nutrition product launches that are branded as vegan has increased from 5% of the total category’s launches to 15% in 2019. Similarly, plant-based protein formulations launches in the space grew from 12% in 2015 to 17% in 2018 before dipping slightly to 15% in 2019, according to Innova Market data.

“There used to be kind of an apprehension or athletes to go on a 100% plant-based diet. … Much of that has gone away in recent years,” Vierhile said

“That is definitely steering consumers in the sports nutrition space more than any other cause.”

Plant-based formulations' growth in the sports nutrition space also is reflected in an increase in "vegetarian" label claims for products in the category.  "So clearly plant-based protein has become an important area of innovation when it comes to sports nutrition," Vierhile said.

While vegetarian claims increased 61% from 2015 to 2019, the claim that was No. 2 in growth – joint health at 60% – also bodes well for continued growth for the overall category. "We have a lot consumers who may be looking at this space of the first time. They've become active and their joints are sore,” Vierhile said.

Overall in the dietary supplement market, sales of products with immunity boosting claims have increased dramatically during the pandemic. (Also see "Pandemic-Driven Trends Show Strong Immunity Supplement Future, Elderberry A Current 'Darling'" - HBW Insight, 20 Apr, 2020.)


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