Evolving innovation in the sports drink industry (and the AI-backed consumer motivations)

Consumer needs are evolving in the sports drink market, with brands looking to capitalize on growing trends for cleaner labels, low & no sugar and functional benefits.

Successful brands in this space will be launching innovative, purpose-driven products, targeted to elevate performance, stamina and strength, as well as overall nutrition and hydration.

According to MarketWatch, the global sports drink industry was estimated to be worth $24bn in 2020 and is predicted to rise to over $33bn by 2027. This growth rate equates to 4.7% over the seven-year period and, when combined with changing needs of consumers, it’s no wonder brands are innovating in the space.

In recent years, brands have made moves away from the stereotypical carbonated, sugary and caffeine-loaded beverages, instead innovating with new ingredients, product types and providing more functionality to align with consumer needs.

One brand taking on a unique approach to sports drink innovation is the US-based Guardian Athletic, who are one of the few brands in the industry to use nano-amplified hemp extract.

Guardian Athletic and nano-amplified hemp extract

Guardian Athletic’s nano-amplified hemp extract is a custom nano CBD isolate formula, which they claim is the safest and most effective form of CBD there is.

“CBD, in its natural form, is unfortunately known for its low bioavailability,” say the brand. “Which means that when you consume it by mouth only 10-20% of it ends up in your bloodstream.

“That’s a pretty significant amount of waste for this expensive product. Nano CBD encapsulates the molecules to a significantly smaller size, allowing them to withstand the intestinal barrier which results in higher absorption rates.”

Their ‘Rehydration’ product comes in three flavours – citrus, tropical and berry – with each 16oz (473ml) bottle containing 25mg of the nano-amplified hemp extract. They are also low calorie, gluten-free, vegan friendly, zero THC, 80kcal per bottle and retail at $29.94 for six.

Interestingly, Guardian Athletic are using an alternative sweetener in the form of organic Rebaudioside A, which is a highly-refined, non-glycemic stevia leaf extract.

What the AI-based Tastewise data says:

  • While the data set is small, UK social discussions that reference “CBD” and “Sports” are currently rising +14.31% (MoM)
  • When it comes to mentions of ‘Hydration’ on UK social media, ‘Clean Eating’ is referenced with it (in the same post) 4.46% of the time. While small, this is actually over 3x more (325.2%) than the amount of times the diet is mentioned in terms of all food and beverage discussions (1.05%) – indicating potential opportunity.

GoodSport – Developing energy drinks from milk

Another innovative US brand is GoodSport, who market their brand as ‘The Goodness of Milk’ in a clear sports drink.

The idea for GoodSport came from chocolate milk, which is often used by athletes to aid recovery after exercise. Founder Michelle McBride realised that the speed of digestion (and thus recovery) is slowed due to the protein and fat content in chocolate milk, so she set out to remove these components but keep the electrolytes and carbohydrates.

Michelle collaborated with some of the world’s top sports nutrition and dairy scientists, including Dr. Bob Murray (the former director for the Gatorade sports science institute), to develop GoodSport, focusing on providing ‘naturally powerful hydration.’

Consumer adoption to the brand is gaining traction, thanks to the ultrafiltration process, as well as the product being visually competitive to existing sports hydration products, with their clean-label sports drink said to deliver three times the electrolytes and 33% less sugar compared to traditional sports drinks.

“We ultrafilter milk harnessing its essential electrolytes, vitamins and carbs and remove the rest to create a clear, thirst-quenching sports drink that’s been scientifically shown to deliver long-lasting hydration and fuel for active muscles,” say the brand.

GoodSport launched onto Amazon in March 2021, with the 97% dairy product available in 12-packs for $32.99. The launch offers four flavours – wild berry, citrus, fruit punch and lemon lime – sold in 16.9oz bottles with each containing over 1600mg of electrolytes.

All flavours are lactose free, gluten free and non-GMO.

How does market leader Gatorade compare?

One of GoodSport’s key market competitors is Gatorade who have been in the industry since the mid 1960s. Gatorade, owned by PepsiCo, have a vast product portfolio covering hydration, energy and protein, with the brand a clear market leader in the sports drink industry.

They’ve launched multiple innovations over the years and are also establishing new tech for hydration, recently launching their new Gx sweat patch which monitors fluid loss, sweat rate and sodium loss.

Where brands such as GoodSport might win is within the cleaner and natural space, particularly with ingredient declarations.

GoodSport products are also much higher in electrolytes than an equivalent Gatorade product. For example; a 360ml bottle of Gatorade Thirst Quencher contains approximately 210mg of electrolytes, while an equivalent serving of GoodSport contains over 1100mg.

What the AI-based Tastewise data says:

  • ‘Vitamins’ is currently the dominant nutritional claim in terms of UK consumer interest in hydration, with 10.67% of the market share, closely followed by ‘Natural’ (10.42%)
  • Interestingly, when pairing the terms ‘Hydration’ and ‘Energy’ in terms of UK social media mentions; ‘Collagen’ is up +27.781%, with ‘Probiotics’ up +55.471% (both YoY)
  • While this equates to only 3.27% and 2.1% of the overall market share respectively, the high percentage growth acts as further indication of consumer interest in the evolution (and innovations) of the sports drink market
Hannah Atton
Hannah is a food and drink trend analyst, consultant and NPD expert. She was previously a cross-category product developer and trends researcher for Tesco, an NPD technologist at Bakkavor and freelance trend analyst for The Food People.

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