The coronavirus pandemic has been tough on everyone, but for those committed to regular physical workouts, the situation has had its own particular challenges.
“There is no doubt about it: The pandemic has made it more difficult for Americans to exercise, especially with gyms and health clubs closing,” asserts Aryn Doll, RDN, nutrition education specialist at Lakewood, Colo.-based Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage. “Despite this, many are finding creative solutions to stay moving and continue their exercise regimens at home, which has helped to maintain and potentially even grow sales in the sports and performance products arena.”
According to Doll, the retailer offers a range of high-quality and affordable sport- and performance-specific products, along with foundational supplements, and among its top-selling categories are collagens, whey and plant proteins, MCT oils, electrolytes, and pre- and post-workout formulas. During the pandemic, Natural Grocers saw its performance nutrition category increase by 3.2%, the protein category rise by 10.8%, and collagens soar by 19%.
The company provides customers and its good4u Crew with free nutrition education on a quarterly basis about a different supplement that can aid their health, and has on staff highly trained nutrition experts, also known as Nutritional Health Coaches (NHCs), to help customers achieve their fitness goals, notes Shelby Miller, Natural Grocers’ manager of scientific affairs and nutrition education.
Beyond its effect on hardcore athletes, the public health crisis has made a lot of consumers reconsider their approach to wellness. Doll observes that “many Americans are recognizing the importance of getting back to our roots — including eating healthier and exercising more — for maintaining health and immune resiliency. In other words, consumers are looking to engage in healthier behaviors, which means greater interest in health-promoting products that retailers have to offer.”
Obviously, for most people, the specialized sports nutrition products consumed by elite athletes wouldn’t be appropriate, but the wide variety of functional bars and other foods on the market can be marketed to appeal to consumers who aren’t necessarily in training for a marathon.
“Athletes are an extreme example of the broader health-and-wellness movement,” explains Brenden Schaefer, founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based Bright Foods, maker of refrigerated Clean Protein and Whole Veggie & Fruit Bars. “People want to eat healthier — but they want products that are simply a better version of what they’re already consuming today. And, of course, they have to taste great.” Those types of items can be “dually merchandised in a sports nutrition [section] and in grab-and-go sets where people are looking for great better-for-you options,” he suggests.
Additionally, Schaefer notes: “Athletic consumers aren’t always in a sports nutrition frame of mind — they’re looking to eat healthy food through the day to support their broader goals. Active consumers are the same — they’re just optimizing for getting in a great workout, doing the best work at their job, and, if they have kids, being the best mom or dad they can be.
“With that in mind, we’ve seen great success when our products are merchandised in the grab-and-go cooler section,” he continues. “Shoppers will grab a beverage and a refrigerated bar to eat after a lunchtime workout or ahead of hitting the 3 p.m. slump. Consider bundling products together — offer shortcuts that check the boxes they’re looking for in their food: clean ingredients, high protein, high fiber, low sugar, plant-based.”
Expanding the Audience
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