Raising the Bar: How Has Lockdown Impacted the Sports Nutrition, Equipment and Supplements Category?


We’re seeing huge changes in human activity and exercise levels across the globe. The evidence of our eyes tells us that more people seem to be exercising more than ever before, but does the data bear this out? And what are the implications for the future of the sports nutrition, equipment and supplement markets?

The data is conflictual – on the one hand sports watch maker Garmin report that users daily ‘step count’ is down in each major EU country that’s suffered COVID e.g. Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the U.K. Yet that’s not the whole picture as confined to their house; in-home sports have massively been up.

Cycling

man cycling

Cycling has been the big winner. When comparing the pre and post-lockdown phases in France, there is a remarkable 157% increase in indoor cycling, with Spain and Italy up by 273% and 309% respectively. A huge increase in an activity that typically decreases in the spring. That’s never happened before.

Psychologically – are people cycling longer to ‘beat’ the virus? Tracked by Garmin or third-party apps like Zwift, Spain is seeing an incredible 41% average distance per ride increase and its up by 12% in Germany. But outdoor cycling has boomed too – in Germany alone, we’re seeing a 153% increase in outdoor cycling compared to the same period in 2019. UK bike shops have never had it so good – under 35 females have driven the bike buying trend with many shops and brands sold out.

Beyond cycling, Italy has seen a 105% increase in fitness equipment activities when comparing the pre- and post-lockdown time periods. Before the lockdown eased, Italians, Spaniards and the French uploaded running activities in record numbers, with respective country increases of 130%, 84% and 18%. Stair climbing (people specifically running up and down stairs in their apartments or houses) has grown in France by 103%, Italy 572% and Spain 900%.

John Lewis has seen an almost 500% sales uplift in gym equipment, a 72% rise in sports shoes and 315% increase in yoga and Pilates equipment and this has been mirrored in other retailers.

So, we’ve clearly seen a step change in the level and type of exercise participation – but what are the implications?

Here, the news is good across the board.

Rising rates of participation in sports is like putting more people in the top of a funnel. Yes, there will be dropouts along the way as participants drift out of the sport, but overall there will be a significant net gain in participation. We have already seen the sports equipment market supply chains struggle to keep up with demand as new entrants require the kit to take part in their sports of choice – this was the first visible injection of demand into the sports industry.

There is a lively second-hand market in sports equipment so this extra equipment will continue to drive participation, even if the owner of the equipment changes.

Some of these new participants will start to take the exercise seriously enough to explore supplements to improve performance. This is likely to lead to volume and value jumps for sports supplement and nutrition brands. It will also focus NPD and brand positioning more towards the ‘newcomer’ end of the category with simpler, more straightforward and easily understood propositions.

empty gym

With gyms closed, many of the traditional routes to market are closed off, therefore online sales (always historically high in these categories) have significantly risen further. It would be logical for the retailers to broaden their ranges in store to increase the ‘impulse’ aspect of purchases, targeted at these new shoppers.

Clothing and apparel brands will also benefit from significant growth as participants explore new fabrics, cuts and bespoke garments needed for different sports. Again, clothing cuts and sizing will become more mainstream and less aggressive, reflecting the fact that many of the new participants are not coming into the respective sports with a physique optimally geared for that sport. Styles, colourways and sloganeering on garments will also tone down, to attract the more mainstream participants.

We can confidently say that, with participation in cycling up, bike purchases up and governments devoting more space to bikes out on the road, cycling equipment and accessories is set for significant year on year growth. The types of equipment will also change, away from more performance and race orientated equipment to more family and female specific products. Its logical to think there are brands yet to be created that will address the needs of these new customers.

The sheer volume of in-home gym equipment that has been purchased will continue to act as a stimulus to in home workouts, which likely fuel gym memberships in the long term, once they reopen. But gym usage is likely to be part of a wider and more varied lifestyle of fitness and gyms will need to adapt and change to prosper.

Longer term, the continued growth of these markets does depend to some extent on public policy. For instance, in the UK, continued improvements in cycling infrastructure – segregated cycle lanes, secure bike parking and wider pavements are important to keep riders on the road when the weather turns, and car traffic volumes climb back up towards pre-COVID levels. Contact us on if you wish to talk about how lockdown has impacted the sports nutrition industry.

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