The US energy supplements category is estimated to now be worth over US$1.2 billion in retail sales in 2001, with annual growth rates of above 20% for each of the last five years, according to new research.

"Foods and beverages sold on an energy platform have caught fire, propelled by a mixture of innovative guerrilla marketing, individuality and increases in participation in physical recreation activities," says the publisher of the research, Mintel.

While target consumers for all three segments - powdered/liquid protein beverages, energy bars and energy drinks - are primarily young and male, energy supplements are appealing to a variety of consumers.

Marketing efforts are expanding to women, young and old, as well as occasional athletes, rather than just professional athletes and body builders. As this industry continues to grow, speciality targets seem to multiply, the report says, from those who engage in extreme sports to those who want meal replacement at their desks, to women, and those who want to lose weight.

"These findings support the positioning of many current products; males are interested in stamina while females are interested in weight loss or becoming leaner. Because the two sexes have such different perceived needs, new brands and positioning for women are likely to be needed to move the consumption needle for women," Mintel says.

Consumption of energy/stimulant beverages is very strongly correlated with age, with the most likely consumers found in the 18-24 year old age group, followed by 25-34. This again is very consistent with the current positioning and distribution of both existing and new brands. But Mintel said: "Even among the target under-25 age group, penetration has a long way to go, especially in encouraging regular users. Marketing strategies are therefore likely to remain consistent."

Although demographic trends will favour the market for energy supplements over the period to 2010, it is clear in order to take full advantage of these trends, manufacturers will need to turn to the older and faster-growing groups.

The older consumers (55+) are increasingly active, are joining health clubs, and are therefore more likely a strong potential market for energy supplements. In support, Mintel's research showed that one-third of this age group would consider purchasing an energy or cereal bar.

Energy/stimulant beverage and powdered/liquid protein drink consumers surveyed for this report are both relatively more likely to be black or Hispanic than white. Hispanic rates of consumption are 50-100% higher than that of whites. This finding would imply that communication targeted to black, Hispanic or urban audiences should be most efficient in further increasing energy drink consumption.