A recent report from KBV Research reports that the global protein supplements market is set to reach $8.7 bn by 2025, rising at a CAGR of 7.9% over the forecast period. Between 2019 and 2025, the report states that the European market can expect 5.9% CAGR. 

With this in mind, at onefourzero we took a deep dive into the data, to discover how proteins are performing online.

Generic Search Trends

We looked back over the period between 2015 and 2018, analysing key search terms as follows: ‘Protein’, ‘Nutrition Supplements’, ‘Preworkout’, ‘Protein Bars’, ‘Protein Powder’, ‘Protein Snacks’, ‘Gluten Free’, ‘Dairy Free’, ‘Vegan’.

The most generic of these, ‘Protein’ itself, grew 7.1% between 2015 and 2016, dropped in 2017, then grew 6.8% in 2018, though still failing to exceed 2016’s high point in search volume   (4,772,470). It was a similar story for many of the other terms, with consistent growth interrupted by a sudden drop in 2017.

Of the terms we analysed, only the terms ‘dairy-free’ and ‘vegan’ have seen a consistent rise since 2015 without a drop. ‘Nutritional supplements’ performed very well initially, with 21.1% growth in the 2015-16 period and a 7.8% rise in the unsteady 2017 year. However, its rise was thwarted in 2018, when search demand for the term dropped 8.5%.

Only three terms, ‘Protein Bars’, ‘Protein Powders’ and ‘Gluten-free’ have exceeded the level of search demand they experienced in 2016, a year which seems to have marked a high point for search around the topic.

Online Conversation

Whilst search demand has been rocky, overall mentions of these and related terms have dropped considerably since 2015 – by 55%.

Generally, however, positive sentiment tends to outweigh negative conversation on these topics. ‘Supplements’ and ‘Protein Powders’ were mentioned most often, but whilst conversation around the latter are generally consistently positive over time, supplements are far less popular with social media users, who demonstrate negative sentiment towards supplements far more often than positive.

Top Online Retailers

Next, we looked at traffic to the sites of the top 10 online protein and sports supplements brands. Traffic to most of these has shown growth between 2017 and 2018, though this was not true across the board. Scienceinsport.com and uk.bodybuilding.com took a big hit, with dramatic traffic drops of 31.7% and 26.9% respectively. Our hypothesis, that retailers that focus on health and wellbeing over sport and bodybuilding were growing better, was proved wrong by the impressive traffic growth of optimumnutrition.com, up 179.2% in 2018. 

Behind The Data

Though protein is still synonymous with sports nutrition, the market is beginning to encompass a range of non-protein products as well. Products with ingredients like amino acids, carbohydrates, creatine, L-carnitine and nitric oxide, for example, are gaining pace over the standard ‘protein powder’. 

Whilst animal-based protein continues to dominate, at 67.6% market share, plant-based proteins are coming through as a popular alternative. Plant-based proteins are expected, in fact, to register the fastest CAGR between now and 2025 (7.9%) over all other forms. As the vegan market continues its upward trajectory, and awareness grows to accommodate those with intolerances and allergies to animal products (i.e. eggs and milk), further opportunities to capture this segment of the market are strong.

As we have proven through our own AI modelling, online behaviour reflects the world offline, and this industry is a prime example. As more health and fitness centres spring up and consumers become generally more health-conscious – particularly amongst the Millennial and Generation X groups – development of innovative protein-based supplements rises to meet demand. Along with this, increasingly hectic and busy lifestyles are supercharging the demand for online options. Online stores in this industry occupied 53.5% share of the overall revenue in 2018, owing much to their 24/7 availability, convenience and large range of options to choose from. 

Women, once visibly absent from the marketing of protein products, are now being actively targeted across the fitness industry – protein included. As the #StrongNotSkinny hashtag continues its drumbeat, and Instagram continues to churn up strong, toned women influencers pushing sports nutrition, protein manufacturers are pulling back on their once hypermasculine branding, in favour of gender neutral colours and featuring men and women alike in their marketing material. Of course, all of this doubles the consumer base for the industry.

A cultural shift has occurred. No longer is healthy living merely a trend; it is fast becoming ingrained behaviour that transcends the hardcore fitness fanatics and bodybuilders. Proteins and related sports nutrition products are regularly used by a wide range of individuals to complement their fitness regime. New technological advancements are giving us more options for sports nutrition to meet a larger range of health and fitness needs, which is giving new entrants to the market an opportunity for growth to challenge the big brands.

Private equity investors would do well to watch the plant-based protein market, along with alternative sports nutrition products, and keep an eye on innovative new startups in the space. It’s an industry on the rise and, like its consumers, is growing stronger all the time.

For more information on how onefourzero’s digital data and market analysis can help you, click here or contact fleur@onefourzerogroup.com

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