Trends & Features

Sports nutrition can create a new revenue stream for retailers

By Louise Ramsay

According to Technavio, the UK nutrition market is predicted to increase in value by eight per cent to £527 million by 2019.

The market research company’s latest report shows that powder-based protein products lead the market by 36 per cent, explained by a demand for vegan protein intakes. Energy and protein bars are the second biggest segment in the sports nutrition market, sales of which are predicted to increase by the end of the forecast period.

Given the myriad of supplements retailers online, it might appear as if independent bricks and mortar retailers and gyms don’t stand much chance of profiting from the nutrition boom, but that’s not necessarily the case.

Catering for a wide age range
Myles Irvine at the Riverside Gym in East Moseley, Surrey has been in business for 30 years. Gym members are aged from 12 to 80 and come from a wide range of disciplines, including ballet, swimming rugby and football. Body builders are also catered for, as is anyone who wants to lose a bit of weight and improve fitness.

Being a small gym, Irvine doesn’t sell a huge range of supplements and has chosen to stick to two brands. “Reflex and Multipower work well for us,” he says. “Reflex is ISO tested and I’ve been selling Multipower for the past 30 years. It helps too that Multipower is made in Germany and Reflex in the UK – the quality is assured.”

Irvine confirms his biggest competitor when selling supplements is the internet: “Even the quality brands I sell can be bought at vastly reduced prices online and obviously there are cheaper brands which cost even less online.

“People like to buy from me because I can tailor the nutrition to where they are in their training and because I know what I’m talking about. People who come in are sometimes using inappropriate, poor quality nutrition, which I can educate them about. Online, you don’t know what you’re getting and some people just don’t want to buy online.

“However, I’m not sure I’d switch to brands that don’t sell more cheaply online, because those brands tend to be smaller. People want names, even if the less well known supplements are good.”

Irvine boosts sales by offering discounts to regular customers and personal trainers who work in the gym.

Convenience is key
Convenience is also an important factor in nutrition sales. “Gym members can pick up their nutrition when they come into train,” Irvine says. “I also get people dropping by who don’t use the gym. I’ve got a fridge in the foyer filled with protein, fat burning and caffeine drinks and I sell nutrition bars at reception. We sell tubs of nutrition too.

“Once people are through the door, there’s a chance they’ll buy from the rest of our nutrition range.”

Irvine has noticed the impact of sports nutrition’s increased popularity: “It’s a massive industry now – I sell much more than I did 30 years ago. But as a small outfit, I can’t offer a huge range of products and people often stick to the brand they know. Nevertheless, nutrition is still an important part of what we do.”

Not just about the gym
David and Kerryanne Marshall have been selling nutrition alongside traditional sports products since they opened Total Sports in Sleaford, Lincolnshire three years ago.

They specialise in fitness, running and triathlon, but as the only sports shop in a small town also cater for more general sports too, such as darts and football.

“Supplements for gym goers are still a big part of our trade, but running and triathlon have tipped the scales now to take over 50 per cent of our sales,” David says. “That’s partly because they’re sports we specialise in, but the supplements market is changing.”

In terms of brands, David says he’s quite selective: “We use distributors who can get every brand, so that if a customer wants a certain product we can order it in quickly.

We also only stock products that we get good feedback on. There’s no point in stocking cheap nutrition that gives people bad experiences. It doesn’t just reflect on the brand, it reflects on us as a shop. Essentially, they have to taste good.”

Absorb Nutrition is a brand David finds work well for him: “Absorb don’t sell online at a cheaper price than we sell it in the shop. A customer can’t just try it out from us once, then go online and buy it for less. It means they have to come back to us. It’s also a great product that tastes nice and has good levels of protein.

“NRG Fuel is another brand I’d recommend. They’re not massive, but they’re really popular and sponsor lots of athletes. We also carry bigger brands such as USN, Reflex, SCI-MX and Mutant to give our customers choice, but they work out less well for us.”

According to David, an advantage of selling nutrition as a sports retailer is that he can give all-round advice: “Supplements shops are generally run by bodybuilders, so they can’t advise the increasing numbers of triathletes, runners and other athletes who want to buy nutrition. Selling dietary supplements as part of a general sports store means everything fits together.”

Generating sales
Sales are generated by customers who come in solely to buy nutrition, but it also sells well as an add-on.

“If someone comes in to buy a pair of trainers and is moaning about their aches and pains, I can explain how nutrition might help,” David says.

He also emphasises how important it is to build relationships with the local community: “I go out into clubs and gyms and offer discounts. A lot of gyms already sell supplements, but don’t always offer a huge range.

“They send customers to me and if I don’t sell a product, I send customers to gyms. I work with personal trainers too and run a scheme where their clients get discounts from me.”

Workouts go boutique
It’s not just the nutrition market that’s booming. Leisure DB’s 2015 State of the UK Fitness Industry Report estimated that the total value of the fitness market was £4.3 billion, up 5.4 per cent on 2014.

Total industry membership is the strongest growth indicator and was up 5.8 per cent to 8.8 million over the same time period. Growth continues to be driven by strong performance from the rapidly growing low cost market in the private sector, but at the top workouts have gone decidedly upmarket.

Boutique gyms are offering composition checks, personal training and smaller class sizes. Retailing high end nutrition and fitness wear, juice bars and sumptuous changing rooms complete with fluffy towels and luxury toiletries often add to their appeal.


BodyPower UK, which Sports Insight supports as a media partner, is all set to go at Birmingham’s NEC on May 13-15.

Columnist and model Vicky Patterson, best known for MTV show Geordie Shore and winning the 15th series of I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!, has confirmed her attendance.

She’s also known for her incredible body transformation, which led to the release of her own fitness DVD and the launch of the Vicky Patterson Mini V Nutrition brand.

The world’s heaviest bodybuilder, Mamdouh ‘Big Ramy’ Elssbiay, fitness trainer Paige Hathaway and fitness model Ryan Terry will also be appearing at BodyPower.

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