Subject to phenomenal growth in its early years, the sports drink market has matured in recent years. But as new research from Mintel Consumer Intelligence shows, high levels of brand activity and the untapped potential of the female consumer leaves plenty of room for continued expansion.

Brand name does make a difference when it comes to choosing a sport drink, according to research recently released in the US. However the dominance of market leaders such as Gatorade is being challenged by the arrival of a flurry of new brands on the market.

This recent market invasion has given younger consumers an expanding choice when selecting their brand, although older consumers are still more inclined to purchase what they are used to.

The research, conducted by Mintel Consumer Intelligence and reported in The Sports Drinks Market, also found that when comparing the attitudes of adults to those of teenagers, only one third of adult respondents said that they see different benefits between brands while half of teen respondents felt that this was true.

Another industry movement in this market is the consumption of sports drinks as an "anytime" drink rather than just for exercise. Nearly 60% of adults and three-quarters of teens see the beverage as being in the refreshment arena.

Consumers have reacted to the increase in product development in the drinks industry by increasingly looking for novelty and variety in beverages. As the sports drinks category matures and evolves, a host of related products have been launched and new categories are being created.

The range of energy drinks, despite offering a number of different benefits and images, appeal to many of the same core of young male consumers. New flavours and enhanced water products are blurring the line between bottled water and sports drinks with sports drink giant Gatorade one of the leading manufacturers of these new water brands.

"These products will help broaden the appeal of sports drinks further, both in terms of drinking occasions and new consumers (especially women)," said Mintel.

The most promising element of the research regarding the future growth of sports drinks is the relatively high levels of interest in the category among female teens. They are not heavy consumers, but unlike the adult market, where women are not significantly attracted, female teens are only slightly behind their male contemporaries. Another positive sign is that teen girls say that they like the new flavours that have hit the market in 2001 - 2002, with approval rates that are much higher than those for teenage boys.

The teenage market remains at the forefront of the sports drink category. While around half of the adults surveyed said they had consumed sports drinks, 79% of teens said they had used the product.

Heavy users - those who consume sports drinks four times per week or more - are almost three times more likely to be found in the teen sample than in the adult category. Medium users (one to three purchases per week), are again three times more likely to come from the teen bracket. And while 54% of adults have never consumed sports drinks, only 21% of teens respond similarly.

From the young categories, those age 12- to 17-years-old are also substantially more likely to be users than the youngest adult group, age 18 to 24, indicating that the core user group is age 12-24, and possibly younger.

Expert Analysis

North America Sports & Energy Drinks Report

This report provides 2001 data, plus forecasts out to 2004. Market segmentation is shown, together with packaging and distribution splits, relevant taxes/duties, selected retail prices and, where available, corporate shares.

 

Given the long-term marketing strategies of the major players, it should be no surprise that Mintel's research found this category to be heavily skewed towards male consumption. A huge 60% of men have consumed the products, almost twice as high a rate as for women.

Men are also much more likely to be frequent consumers (once per week or more) while women have barely started to register with the category. Indeed, a large majority of women users do so less than once a week. "These results imply that the easiest way for the category to grow is by appealing to women, as market penetration among men is probably approaching a practical limit, though certainly current users are prime targets to increase usage," said Mintel.

Mintel estimates that the retail market for sports drinks will near US$3 billion in 2002, up 8% from 2001. By the year 2007 it is estimated the market will be worth over US$4.1 billion. This is a very significant rate of growth compared to other foods and beverages, but it is down from the spectacular growth rates notched by the category in prior periods.