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Plant Power: The rise of vegan sports nutrition products

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Sports nutrition plant-based products are touted for being lactose-free, and for providing strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and oxygenating properties.

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ANDY COYNE: Gym users are increasingly turning to vegan products before, during and after they pump iron or hit the treadmill. While plant-based alternatives to mainstream food items have become familiar to consumers and made their way into many a shopping trolley, vegan sports nutrition products would seem to be more of a niche offering. But if it is a niche it is a niche with some heft.

The global vegan supplements market, which in addition to plant-based powders, bars and drinks used in and around exercise, also includes vitamins, minerals and botanical supplements, was valued at more than US$17bn at the end of 2020, according to research.

And the latest data from research and analysis firm GlobalData – Just Food’s parent company – shows 19.5% of exercisers who use supplements prioritise vegan/plant-based ingredients before they work out and 20.7% do so after exercising. Assuming gym users, other sports enthusiasts and everyday healthy eaters have not turned vegan en masse, the phenomenon needs some explaining…

An increasingly health-minded consumer base post-Covid is obviously a factor here. Plant-based products also cater for intolerances by being lactose-free, for example. The products are also touted to provide strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and oxygenating properties.

And, an important point for gym users, they are also, proponents argue, to be at least as good, if not better, in performance terms, providing high functionality from mixing different protein sources and higher levels of fibre than products with dairy ingredients. Finally, the products feed into the narrative of doing better by the planet. All of this has created something of a surge in vegan sports-nutrition product development, a trend which has certainly been noted by ingredients suppliers…

John Kelly, strategy director of beverages at Kerry Group’s European arm, says: “Plant-based innovation and solutions are driving a lot of the growth in the sports-nutrition category presently. Today’s consumer approaches sports nutrition more holistically than ever, with a sharp focus on specific need-states and ingredients to deliver on these need-states before, during and after exercise…

It’s the same story on the other side of the Atlantic where US animal-free whey producer Perfect Day is finding itself in great demand from sports nutrition firms… Perfect Day, which uses precision fermentation and microflora to produce its animal-free dairy protein, has linked up with Myprotein to develop performance protein powder Whey Forward…

Myprotein can be forgiven for thinking it was ahead of the game in this area, having set up a specialist offshoot, Myvegan, back in 2018, way before Covid prompted so many consumers to look at what they were putting into their bodies… Sophie Pugh, Myvegan’s general manager, says: “Coming out of the pandemic, we as a collective have shifted from the mindset that we need to completely change our lifestyles and instead we have adapted a more flexible outlook”…

But, as consumers try to cope with a cost-of-living crisis, could the premium price that is often attached to vegan sports-nutrition products become a barrier to future growth for plant-based product manufacturers?… Maxence Damarey, a French ex-professional boxer who now runs his own plant-based sports nutrition firm – Paris-based Ozers – says: “The price of ingredients is increasing a lot in dairy and less in plant-based. Vegan stuff still has a little premium, but the pricing is becoming more competitive”… Whether price becomes an increasingly important issue or not, demand has increased for vegan sports-nutrition products. SOURCE…

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