man drinking protein shake gym

Given their niche appeal, sports nutrition brands have long had a strong presence in online direct-to-consumer sales. The channel allows brands to stock a wider range than in physical stores, and gives them plenty of shopper data to refine their strategy.

It can also generate big sales. Revenues from e-retailer and Myprotein brand owner THG’s nutrition business hit £659.5m in 2021, according to its most recent full-year results. That’s growth of 17.3% year on year, and up 59.7% on 2019.

THG attributed the success to “decades of product know-how and innovative resource”, as well as its effort in reducing lead times for new product development and reducing its costs.

Returning customers also helped, with those coming back to Myprotein and beauty brand Lookfantastic accounting for 80% of total revenues, according to the company.

Even so, much online growth from the past few years was driven by the pandemic. The effect was noticed by brands who lacked a DTC presence when Covid hit the UK.

“I would’ve loved to have been operating DTC in 2020 but it’s very expensive to run a chilled or frozen DTC operation,” says Segun Akinwoleola, founder of ready meals brand The Gym Kitchen.

He’d been working on the brand for three years when it went into Asda in January 2020, where it “probably had the worst launch ever”.

“Covid hit and suddenly no one was prioritising health and everyone was buying toilet roll and pasta,” he says.

“Thankfully, we had the support of the retailer and we got through it.”

Swedish protein shake and snack bar brand Barebells set up a DTC site as late as March 2021. This “has helped us connect with our customers on a more personal level”, says trade marketing manager Maria Ledesma.

“By disrupting the conventional journey through offering several competitive advantages over traditional retail strategies, we have built stronger brand loyalty, expanded market opportunities, and increased consumer engagement.”

But as the pandemic fades and online sales subside, the fact even THG/Myprotein is teaming up with Iceland shows there’s nothing quite working with a major multiple to be mainstream.

How sports nutrition is winning in front of store: protein category report 2022