The Future of Nutrition is Drinkable: The Rise of Functional Beverages

Top Takeaways from NBJ’s 2024 Sports Nutrition and Weight Management Report

In a post-pandemic world where everyone appears to be constantly on the move, and 56% of consumers assert they are more active now than before the pandemic, it's becoming evident that the future of nutrition supplements lies in the convenience of functional beverages.

Every year, the Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ) releases its annual report on the Sports Nutrition and Weight Management industries. The latest 2024 edition showcases an impressive growth rate of 11.1% in the preceding year, propelling the combined market value to $69.86 billion. Notably, 2023 marked the third consecutive year of double-digit growth.

Sports Hydration and Energy Beverages took the lead, capturing $5.6 billion of the total $6.9 billion combined market growth. Valued at $46.4 billion, this sector experienced an impressive growth rate of 13.9%, leaving other segments in the dust. Nevertheless, the $9.7 billion Sports Nutrition Supplements category, which includes functional sports protein beverages and protein powders, also saw notable growth, with sales rising by 8.5%, marking the industry's best performance for supplements.1

However, numbers only tell half of the story. Here, we delve deeper into consumer insights and emerging trends that are driving the remarkable growth observed in the Sports Nutrition and Weight Management sectors.

70-80% of your immune system is housed within your gut.

While your immune system is a complex network of organs, cells and tissues located throughout your body – the vast majority of immune cells themselves hang out in your gut. More specifically, 70-80% of your body’s immune cells are located in the gut-associated lymphoid tissues (GALT) found in your gastrointestinal tract, including Peyer's patches in your small intestines.1

Scientists believe that the gut microbiome (comprised of trillions of microorganisms living in your gut) and immune system coevolved in a symbiotic relationships over time to protect human health. That means that your gut health and immune health are intricately related, and a healthy gut supports a healthy immune system.

Sports Nutrition Consumers Aren’t Always Athletes

When you think of sports nutrition, performance athletes are typically the consumers who come to mind. However, “to perform better in a sporting or physical activity” ranked as only the fifth most cited reason why consumers regularly use sports nutrition or active lifestyle products.

Occasional runners and home workout people, aiming to either lose weight or simply maintain their current weight, undoubtedly surpass the number of athletes using sports nutrition products to enhance performance or build muscle mass.

Notably, over half (56%) of respondents agree that the primary motivation behind their consistent purchase of sports nutrition or active lifestyle products is “for general health and nutrition benefits.” The second top reason for purchasing these products is “to look better/ improve physical appearance,” with 42% of consumers citing it as their primary motivation. The third is “to address nutritional deficiencies.”

Additionally, people aren’t buying sports nutrition products at gyms and health clubs, nor are they consuming them at actual sporting events. The NBJ report unveils that Sports Nutrition Functional Beverages and Nutrition Bars are often bought for their perceived weight management benefits and act as meal replacements for individuals rushing out the door. This trend became apparent in 2020 when stores closed, and the category suffered as a consequence of the pandemic.

Nonetheless, NBJ confirms that sports-themed marketing remains effective, as the majority of people perceive "active lifestyle" and "sport" as synonymous terms. This holds regardless of whether consumers are motivated by weight management, convenience, or taste.

The Soaring Demand for Functional Beverages

According to the new report, the Sports Nutrition Functional Beverages group witnessed historic sales in 2023, growing by approximately 8.1% from the previous year. The sector is now worth $1.39 billion and is expected to reach $1.8 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR rate of 8.14%.

Meanwhile, sales across the Sports Hydration and Energy Beverage category are growing at an astonishing pace, as mentioned earlier. In 2019, this combination accounted for 52.4% of the overall supplement market. NBJ predicts that by 2027, it will expand to a staggering 97.75%.

It appears that consumers are increasingly turning to electrolyte-formulated drinks for various purposes, ranging from alleviating hangovers to aiding in weight loss and boosting immunity. Manufacturers would be wise to jump on the hydration train; however, differentiation is becoming more difficult. They will need to integrate trendy ingredients, such as IMMUSE™ postbiotic for enhanced immune support, into their innovative product formulations if they aim to penetrate the market successfully.

Bottom line: NBJ underscores the notion of convenience as a pivotal factor in the resurgence of the sports nutrition market post-pandemic, particularly evident as stores reopened and consumers sought out on-the-go nutrition options. This convenience is exemplified in both the sports hydration and energy, as well as functional sports protein beverages categories.

Ready to tap into the booming market? Elevate your next functional beverage with IMMUSE™ for added immune support. Whether you're in sports nutrition, weight management, or the broader nutrition industry, stand out with innovative formulations that cater to the growing demand for on-the-go solutions. Visit our For Manufacturers page to learn more!

1Nutrition Business Journal, Sports Nutrition and Weight Management Report, April 2024.