Written by: Sara Shipley, RD student, runner, nutrition writer and more
Gatorade fruit bites and pro chews? Yes, you read that right. PepsiCo’s brand is embarking on a major product expansion into a new market.
Recently, an article about Gatorade caught my eye, and here’s why. I find their product line a bit confusing. I know they offer an electrolyte-rich sports beverage to mass markets and serious athletes alike, but keeping up with the right drink to consume pre or post workout honestly gives me a headache. This article will shed light on the direction the brand is heading and how they are getting there.
At the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Florida, Gatorade has a lab and, well known sports figures including NBA star Dwayne Wade and Iman Shumpert are involved in the studies, which drive the scientist’s knowledge of an athlete’s needs for performance. The brand has set out to develop products that rival competition in other markets. ‘“One beverage can’t serve all your needs as an elite athlete,” says the brand’s chief, Sarah Robb O’Hagan. (Her official title is Gatorade president, North America, and global chief marketing officer, sports nutrition, for PepsiCo.) Gatorade’s goal is to go from a big fish in a $7 billion U.S. sports-drink industry to an even bigger fish in a $20 billion sports nutrition market.’
As the sports drink took a hit during the 2008 economy bust, Gatorade’s market share decreased from 80 to 74%. Compounded by competition in the performance fuel market (Jelly sport beans, energy bars and Honey Stinger waffles), professional and serious athletes were looking elsewhere for energy sources. Gatorade marketing strategists’ knew that in order to revive their brand, they would need to expand product offerings.
Examining athlete’s performance and nutrient absorption has been a major focus as Gatorade goes into the lab and tries to develop effective products. Lawrence Armstrong, professor of environmental and exercise physiology at the University of Connecticut’s human performance laboratory explained in the article: “Research says protein helps repair muscles after exercise. But simply chocking a bar full of protein won’t work. The body can handle only so much at a time. And even when the optimal level of a carbohydrate is determined, making large amounts of the supplement palatable in a drink requires further expertise. There are many, many factors that influence performance, including psychology, sleep, and environmental conditions.’’
As I mentioned, their product line seems convoluted. Gatorade executives agree. “I think it’s a very confusing brand,” says Tim Hoyle, director of research for PepsiCo. Although the sports drink giant now offers a wider assortment of products, ‘Gatorade has its work cut out for it. It will need to persuade everyone from high school jocks to weekend tennis warriors that they should trade bananas for packaged carbohydrate chews, and peanut butter sandwiches for processed protein bites.’ Currently, three core product lines for G Series include ‘G’, ‘G Fit’, and ’G Pro’ and each offers pre, during and post workout products. The ‘G’ line is targeted to ‘performance athletes such as high school teams or recreational adult league players- which according to the article make up nearly a quarter of the United States population. The ‘G Fit’ is intended for the more moderately active population who exercises to stay healthy, but do not participate in competition. Finally, the ‘G Pro’ line is the list of products formally only available to pro athletes. Consumers are now able to purchase the bars and chews with precisely engineered ratios of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and mineral for performance and recovery.
Armed with an assortment of new products, the brand faces another challenge. Executive Sarah Robb O’Hagan noticed the brand really wasn’t marketing to athletes. “The huge aha! for me was, ‘We’re an athletic performance brand, we’re selling in convenience and grocery stores, but we don’t even show up in a sporting goods store, in a cycling store, or in a place where an athlete actually goes to equip themselves to play sports.” Distribution will be instrumental in their success. Vice-President Brand Marketing Andrea Fairchild explains: “We are setting a different bar for how we are looking at retail’…instead of just stacking beverages high and selling them cheaply in grocery and convenience stores, the new strategy requires the company to rethink everything from advertising to in-store displays. Gatorade now is selling to GNC vitamin shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Whole Foods Market, and specialty sports stores. It’s about being where athletes shop and sweat.”
As an amateur runner, I have personally had great success with homemade pre- and post workout snacks, including peanut butter toast and Greek yogurt with oatmeal. However, I’m intrigued with the bite-sized fruit nut bars for long runs. Have you tried any of Gatorade’s new products? Do you think they can sustain their dominance in the market and grow as a sports nutrition resource? Share your comments!