Reputed to be worth $50 billion globally, dietary supplements are one of the fastest growing areas in the consumer health market. We speak to industry professionals to find out what is spurring this growth and to get their expert predictions for the future of supplements.
Whey to go
First up we wanted to find out what the current situation is, so we asked Elliot Dawes, Founder, Owner and Managing Director at Bulk Powders for the lowdown: “The sports nutrition market is developing across Europe at around 10-12% CAGR. Although once the preserve of professional athletes and bodybuilders the category has become increasingly mainstream, attracting a wide range of customers both from the gym and the general health and wellness category.” He added: “It is no coincidence that this growth has been matched by the wider adoption of ‘clean eating’ and increased gym memberships.”
So the market is growing – but what exactly is selling? We asked Gavin Black, founder of Twist Drinks, who told us that whilst popular products such as protein and creatine still remain the cornerstone of most supplement users’ basket, he’s also experienced “an increase in the sales of BCAA drinks and more functional foods such as protein bread, bars and pizzas etc.”
He thinks customers are more knowledgeable about products, and this is contributing to the new varied shopping basket of supplements: “I think it’s consumer driven awareness of what supplements are available and that you won’t become Arnie by consuming them. Supplement users are looking for more products that cater to their ever demanding, hectic lifestyles, products such as protein bread and our product Twist Protein drinks (no shaker needed).”
Vicky Sawyer is a marketing executive at The Good Guru, she told us she thinks the market is fuelled in part by younger purchasers: “Young people are growing up with an incredibly vast amount of information available to them online. As a society, we are becoming more knowledgeable about health as we rely less and less on our family doctors and seek help from the internet which is accessible to us in the palm of our hands. The youth market relies on their handheld devices for immediate answers.”
Gavin Black agrees that the surge in interest is youth driven, but thinks it’s a repeat of history: “10-15 years ago you had a market of 20 year old’s looking for supplements and at cheap prices (The original MyProtein Generation). Those 20 year olds have now grown up and have become the educated consumers demanding functional products. The demand is now from a new batch of young men and women who want a range of supplements at cheap prices. There is very little different in the marketplace from then and now, just some new companies and an expansion on current product sets.”
Social media plays a huge part in young people’s lives; nearly 75% of internet users aged 16 and over have a social media profile, compared to just 22% in 2007. Not to mention the amount of time young people spend online has trebled to 27 hours a week in the last decade. We wanted to find out if this new social media culture has had any effect on the supplement industry.
Vicky told us: “It’s become extremely trendy to look fit and healthy over the past few years and now that we have Instagram and Snapchat, we can follow our favourite celebrities and figure out how they do it.”
She explained how this not only affects what products they sell, but even how they are packaged: “Instagram is having a huge impact on what our packaging looks like as well! If it looks to medicinal people won’t photograph it and it won’t end up circulating around social media as a ‘cool’ product. Consumers want to use a product that is simplistic, looks good, and does exactly what it says on the box.”
Elliot thinks the rise of Instagram stars is a by-product of the trend, he told us: “Young people are very much more interested in their health and fitness. There is no doubt that this is strongly reinforced by the rise of the Instagram stars but these tend to reflect and reinforce the trend rather than drive it.”
He explained how social media has changed society’s approach to health and fitness: “The key to the whole business is that it is peer-led – people tend to train with their friends – and this is reinforced by social media in a way that wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago. This may well have helped encourage women into the category at a higher rate. They are a growing percentage of our customer base (now nearly 1/3).”
Gavin thinks it’s important that celebrity and popular Instagrammers are aware of the impact and power they hold: “Every celeb has the reach to positively influence people’s health and they need to use it correctly. Supplements are part of the equation, but celebs need to ensure they educate at the same time as sell a product. It most certainly does apply to the younger demographic; the younger consumer who is not educated on products, what they can and can’t do and the possibly dangerous outcome over dosage can have. Supplements are not a magic pill, they are there to assist someone’s health and fitness journey and celebs need to provide users with this info.”
Fight against obesity
We are constantly hearing about the ‘obesity epidemic’ this country is facing and Gavin thinks the right supplementation could be a key asset in fighting it: “It’s all part of the battle with obesity this country faces and the more adoption and usage we see of supplements the better. The supplement industry, despite its bad reputation, produces good quality, healthy products that could benefit a wider group of people than just fitness lovers.”
The future of supplements
So where is all of this leading? Elliot says they are continuing to see strong growth in sports nutrition: “The UK is still a long way from the US per capita consumption rates and we would expect this gap to close over time.” It certainly seems to be heading that way; according to Euromonitor International, UK sports-related protein product sales alone are predicted to reach £358m by 2018.
Elliot also thinks the audience will change: “We expect an increasingly informed audience who will look less for magic solutions and more for particular ingredients. In parallel we would expect to see a move from the star brands of the high street to the value and wider range of the online providers.”
Vicky also thinks that as people learn more about the benefits of supplements, the customer base will begin to expand: “I have a feeling that supplements usage is going to sway away from being exclusive to gym-goers and health fanatics to being an everyday part of people’s routines as they become more aware of what they need to be able to help their bodies function well in their busy lives. It’s become difficult for people to be able to prepare healthy meals full of vitamins every day and that’s where supplementation comes in.”
An area Gavin is keen to see improvement in is regulation: “I predict we will see more clinical studies on the effects of supplements. You will see me at the forefront of this crusade. Supplements have a multitude of uses and benefits but the industry is built on marketing and very few products have studies to back them up.”
He also thinks the products themselves will change and become more innovative to suit customer demand: “The US market is still convenience driven (another reason I created Twist years ago). U.S consumers are more receptive and open to products of this nature and I think you will see the UK and Europe adopting more convenience based products over the next 5 years. Keep an eye out for protein sweets. There are some already on the market but I think they will be the next big thing.”
Protein sweets? Now there’s an idea!