Sports and protein drinks adapt to the market alongside functional beverages

Having won multiple world championships, Mexican professional boxer Canelo Álvarez is a counterpuncher known for being able to exploit openings in his opponents’ guards while avoiding punches with head and body movement. Álvarez, when looking to claim the Super Welterweight title in 2016, said: “I’m a strong fighter, I’m a fighter who can adapt to my surroundings.” Similarly, as the sports and protein drinks category contend with the new age beverage marketplace, experts note that it has adapted to the market alongside functional and hybrid beverages.

“Performance of sports and protein drinks are super strong,” says Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice president at Information Resources Inc. (IRI), Chicago. “From an omnichannel perspective, we have seen double-digit growth in dollars and in units. Both online and in-store are contributing to the growth.

“When COVID-19 hit, and we were at home more with gyms closed, we saw sports and protein drinks decline in sales. However, [the category] quickly rebounded as mobility picked up and people began to work out more,” Wyatt continues. ”In addition, hybrid working models have fueled growth of these drinks.”

According to IRI OmniMarket data, sports drinks generated dollar sales of $9.7 billion, a 21.1% year-over-year (YoY) increase for the 52 weeks ending Feb. 20, in total U.S. multi-outlets. Meanwhile, unit sales increased 5.6% YoY for the same time-period, IRI data shows.

Overall, functional beverages as a whole have been on the rise, including sports and protein drinks, notes Jacqueline Hiner, senior technical analyst at New York-based IBISWorld. “Sports and protein drinks have adapted alongside functional and hybrid beverages,” she says.

As the more traditional sports and protein drinks remained popular among individuals active in sports and weightlifting, “new hybrid beverages, such as ready-to-drink caffeinated protein drinks, and other health-toting concoctions, have debuted over the past several years and garnered a significant level of attention,” Hiner explains.

Whereas the category was essentially a two-player market for a long time, “it has definitely had to reinvent itself in this blurred beverage marketplace,” IRI’s Wyatt adds.

“Sports and protein drinks have contributed more than its fair share to the liquid refreshment beverage dollar growth. This growth has purely come from low/no-calorie options and innovations,” Wyatt explains. “They do have high interaction indices with flavored still water brands.

“The post- and during- workout is a key occasion for a lot of functional waters and these low-calorie sports drink options serve as a good substitute for those occasions, thereby stealing share from some functional beverages,” she continues.

Expanding the options for low-calorie sports drinks, BODYARMOR, a brand of The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, recently introduced its newest flavor innovation: BODYARMOR LYTE Kiwi Strawberry. Each 16-ounce bottle of Kiwi Strawberry has only 20 calories, and is packed with potassium-based electrolytes, coconut water, antioxidants and vitamins, the company says.

Stockholm, Sweden-based NOCCO, a no carb, branched chain amino acids (BCAA) beverage company, also recently introduced its newest flavor: Blood Orange. NOCCO Blood Orange contains 180 mg of caffeine, 3,000 mg of BCAA, and four different vitamins. The carbonated, sugar-free and low-calorie Blood Orange variety is the eighth flavor to launch in the United States.

“We are excited to launch this fresh, new flavor for everyone to enjoy,” said Ben Jones, CEO of NOCCO, in a statement. “Since we launched, it has been our goal to provide healthy drinks with fresh and delectable flavors to keep you going. With this new Blood Orange flavor, you will be energized and ready for what the day has to offer.”

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