The vegan athlete is a growing demographic in the sports world, and as a result, the plant-based performance nutrition market is booming. In this Talk Session, Talking Plant Protein is joined by Sreedevi K, Food and Nutrition Consultant at ChemBizR; James Collier, Huel’s Co-Founder and Head of Sustainable Nutrition; and Lauren Rice, Strength Coach and Owner of Right Angle Fitness. The topic, Professional Performance Nutrition: the current state of the market, leading ingredients, consumer demands, and future projects.
Joey Thurman: Welcome to Talking Plant Protein. I'm Joey Thurman and today we're talking professional performance nutrition. My friends here will report on the current and future state of this market and discuss what ingredients and aspects are performance products that are of most interest for professional athletes. I'm pleased to welcome Sreedevi K, food and nutrition consultant at ChemBizR. James Collier, Huel's co-founder and head of Sustainable Nutrition and Lauren Rice, strength coach, and owner of Right Angle Fitness. Welcome, everybody and let's get ready to get into it, huh?
James Collier: Pleased to be here.
Joey Thurman: Thanks for being here, Sreedevi-
Sreedevi K: Thank you for having us.
Joey Thurman: Yes.
Lauren Rice: Absolutely, very excited.
Joey Thurman: Please give us an overview of what the current market is for plant-based nutrition professional performance.
Sreedevi K: Yeah. So as a market consultancy company who has been working in the food and nutrition space for quite some time, we have been tracking the performance nutrition market. And based on one of our recent studies, what we have seen is the overall global performance nutrition market ranges for around $23 billion dollars globally. Almost 70% of that consumption comes from the demand in North America alone. So initially what the market space looked like was the demand was mainly for the professional athletes or the serious bodybuilders who are really into muscle maintaining and all kinds of optimum body functioning. But in the past few years, what we have observed is that there has been an expansion of the performance nutrition market into a much wider consumer space, ranging from consumers who have all ranges of athletic abilities. So you have a serious athlete who trains probably seven times a week or more. You may have somebody who's just health conscious who may train around three to four times a week, and then you may have the amateur weekend workout enthusiast.
So with this expansion of the consumer base, the industry suddenly faced the need to adapt to the demand for alternatives for the dairy proteins that we have witnessed in the market. And that is how we saw the introduction of these kind of plant-based performance nutrition products. Based on our extensive research, what we were able to identify was that the global plant-based performance nutrition market ranges around $7 billion and almost 85% of that consumption, which comes to about $5.5 billion is in the North American market alone. So the major portion, the major demand comes from the North American market.
And the key products that we've seen are the alternative protein powders, BCW powders and we have the RTD protein shakes. These kinds of products, which are generally consumed in larger volumes, were the first to enter into the plant based market and then came the other products such as energy bars and other products. Brands like global brands such as Optimum Nutrition, BS, Essentia, have all been working strategically to launch these kinds of plant based alternatives to their traditional products. And then there are up and coming new brands such as Aloha, Big-O, who are all slightly gaining footing in the market itself. So what we have seen on an overall is that rice protein, soy protein and pea protein are the three main protein sources that are being used in all of these kinds of product.
But as I mentioned previously, the consumer base is expanding. The demand of the consumers have been changing a lot. So there has been the development of new, innovative protein, such as you find chickpea as a protein source. You find flax seeds as a protein source. So all of these innovative proteins are also being influenced into the market. We have seen that Optimum Nutrition recently incorporated softshell peanut, which is a very rare peanut protein source that they have incorporated that protein into their plant based protein products. Glanbia has now shifted their entire portfolio of the plant base from yellow chick pea. So this is the overall protein, plant based protein space in the performance nutrition products and I guess the other members of the panel, James and Lauren, can speak much more to that because of their firsthand experience with these kinds of products.
Joey Thurman: Right, yeah. Obviously this is expanding tremendously and don't forget Huel is a good place in the market too, right, James? But is there a preferential protein source that people are going to when it's looking at plant-based protein sources? I know you mentioned chick pea and rice and there's soy and there's all sorts of different things. What's the preference for specifically athletes?
Lauren Rice: Well, I guess I'll go ahead and take the lead on that. Athletes are not really concerned about the source. They're really concerned about two things, which is their performance and their recovery. When you have people that play every single day and, for lack of a better term, play, train, and they need to perform, it's more important about how are they going to recover? Will they feel sustained in terms of energy? I think then that bodes well if you have this plant-based protein source, you're going to reduce your inflammation and these types of things. You're going to, hopefully heal a little bit faster. They're readily absorbable and more absorbable for the human body. I mean, speaking from even my personal experience and not just people that I've worked with, everyone that goes vegan should go vegan for a reason. For me personally, it was inflammation after knee surgery and that was when I discovered plant-based protein sources and I did hemp.
But with a professional athlete, they're not going to really lean towards a source. What you're going to find is they're going to trust the professional that is in charge of their nutrition, whether that be the team or whether that be an individual like myself. Because they're relying on their resources to educate them on something that they may not be privy to because they're focused on sport performance.
Joey Thurman: Yeah. And that's a very fair point, Lauren, right? Because you, as a strength coach and you've lived it yourself as well, so you're telling them what specifically to have and some athletes want to be informed exactly what they're putting into a body. Other ones as you know, in working with movie stars too say, "Hey, drink this, eat this," And that's pretty much what they'll go to, correct?
Lauren Rice: Correct. Yes,
Joey Thurman: James. Now, how does Huel fit into this market state of the union?
James Collier: Okay, well Huel, firstly, is all our products are plant-based and we're all about complete nutrition. Our products provide all essential and some important non essential, ones deemed not essential by regulations, all those nutrients in amounts needed for optimum nutrition. Obviously the term optimum nutrition can be open to interpretation and it's very individual so we've got a range of products now. But it's key to note also that, Huel is not about just sports nutrition, performance nutrition. Our target audience, our target market is every adult in the world. That's pretty big, yeah? But we're doing quite well. We're only six years old as a company and we've sold well over a hundred million meals now, across our range. So, we're not performance nutrition per se. However, we have loads of athletes from recreational to professional that enjoy and use your products as part of their plans. And find them very useful because they've got good plant protein sources.
Now, Lauren and Sreedevi, were talking about the different protein sources. Well, we've got in our basic powder, which is Huel version three, we use pea protein and brown rice protein. But because we've got oats in there for slow release carbs, and we've got milled flax seed in for omega-threes primarily. Both those also provide protein. So we've got that.
Then we've got our black edition, which is higher in protein, lower in carbs. We've got what we call hot and savory, which is a grain-based with vegetables, that rather than adding cold water and drink, you add hot water and eat with a spoon, bit more of a ...
Some people were perhaps struggling a bit with the concept that Huel is food, which it is, people call Huel meal replacement. We're not a replacement for a meal, we are a meal. You wouldn't say I'm going to replace my burger and chips tonight with pizza, you'd say I'm going to have a burger and chips or a pizza or Huel hopefully. So, that's where we go with that.
And more recently, we brought a complete protein powder, we're nutritionally complete, so you might be asking rightly, protein's a nutrient, how can it be nutritionally complete if it's a protein? Well, it's primarily protein, but it's got small amounts of the essential fatty acids. And it's got all the vitamins and minerals in there as well. As well as some phytonutrients and some other key ingredients as well.
Joey Thurman: That's great. And you're an athlete yourself, so how do you evaluate the priority in what you're consuming for your own personal goals as well?
James Collier: Well, I don't want anyone to get the impression I'm an elite athlete here, I'm just a recreational guy who's been training since 16, going to the gym in different formats.
Joey Thurman: Hey, once an athlete, always an athlete. Lauren's approaching 41 years old and that man is pushing around sleds and doing all sorts of things too.
Lauren Rice: Thank you for that extra year.
Joey Thurman: You always add that, it's cool. So yeah, how do you evaluate what you're putting into your body?
James Collier: Okay, well, rewind, prior to Huel, I was working in the bodybuilding and fitness world, both in promotion of bodybuilding and strength events and in the nutrition world and running a website. Which was busy in its time. And back then, all I wanted to do was get big muscles. I was early twenties, that was all that mattered. And so I ate lots of food, tried to gain weight, skinny, nine stone teenager. You guys don't talk stone. 14 pounds to a stone, work that out. And then I just wanted to get bigger.
It worked, took me a while, but it worked, I got bigger and stronger and I got there. But more recently, I'm 49 now, I was 49 last week, so I look at things differently. Look, performance nutrition isn't just about physical performance, it's about mental performance.
So as a sideline to nutrition, I like to amateur-ly study neuroscience and endocrinology in respect to appetite and health. And I've also, a little bit of philosophy in there as well, so if you've heard of the Stoics, Marcus Aurelius, and the philosophy, I find that very interesting. And modern neuroscience is really rubber stamping what they were telling us 2000 odd years ago.
And so I find that things like intermittent fasting are interesting from a physiological perspective. There's evidence that it helps weight control and it reduces body fat. And there's physiological benefits associated with longevity. Which at my age you have to start thinking about. But it's also, I wake up in the morning, if I'm having a morning workout, I'm hungry, I want to wait. But it's teaches resilience, we're trying to hold back a bit. After you've had cold showers and saunas and everything as well, and then other things that are trying to hold yourself back.
So, you can build strength in yourself and in the mind. And obviously I'm very fortunate, I've got Huel as part of my dietary regime as well.
Joey Thurman: Yeah. Well, that's very fair. And it's a good point, is you're teaching resilience, so you're helping that neuroplasticity in your brain and telling yourself, oh, I need to wait that extra hour to have the food or whatever it is. So that's a very fair point, especially for athletes and weekend warriors as well. Now, Sreedevi, what does the road ahead look like for performance nutrition?
Sreedevi K: Yeah, so the market has, as I mentioned previously, the market has opened its arm to the general consumer. So in the past five years counting from 2015, what we have seen is that the launches of plant protein products doubled in the past five years. And we are expecting almost double digit growth for around 11% in the next coming five years for the overall market as a whole. So this information alone indicates how strongly the market is being accepted by the consumers as a whole.
So one of the cornerstone of the current consumer is the concept is that you are what you eat. So everybody is really conscious about what goes into the body. Everybody wants to know what's in the food that you're eating. Everybody wants to eat as clean as possible, as natural as possible, as green as possible.
So all of these factors have also trickled into the performance nutrition market itself. So, you have brands like Huel who have really made their position, carved out a niche position for themselves as the vegan, cruelty-free, GMO-free products that they're offering in the performance nutrition space. You have companies like the Kind bar in the USA who have 'made from real food' as their tagline for their products.
So, all of these kind of natural and clean and additive-free would be the main claims that you would find in the performance nutrition products moving forward. But at the same time, there is one challenge that the market has to tackle, which is, I would say it's not a huge challenge, it is a very small challenge from the production point of view if you would say. Is that there are some off notes that come when you're adding these plant proteins into the products, because there is obviously sweeter than plants.
So you have some off notes that may come up when you're consuming these kind of plant based products. So the industry is yet to tackle that fully. There are consumers who claim that they have found brands who have met those kind of benchmarks, those kind of standards in terms of the taste.
But that is one small issue that the industry would need to tackle. And if that is cleared out, then the industry is going to shoot up exponentially even much more greater than our predictions from what we have seen in the research.
Joey Thurman: Yeah, and as a followup to that, is there certain ingredients that consumers and specifically athletes looking for performance nutrition that they're looking for in a plant-based product?
Sreedevi K: So, the concept, as I guess Lauren mentioned earlier, it's not just performance, and it has turned into the concept of a holistic and it has turned into the concept of a holistic and an optimum nutrition of your body functioning, so that whatever ingredient that would have influence on that is definitely going to be in demand. You will have all sorts of vitamins, minerals, omega-3s. Then another popping ingredient is the medium chain triglycerides. So these are the best fats available right now. These are the hottest fats available right now. Everybody wants to use them in their products. So these kind of ingredients that would promote the overall wellness, the physical and mental and emotional wellness, all three are to be balanced. So these kinds of ingredients would definitely be the one that would be in the mind.
Joey Thurman: That makes sense. So we're moving towards optimizing everything, body, mind, spirit, as James touched on. And James, obviously as a manufacturer and consumer yourself of your own product, how does this translate to Huel?
James Collier: I'm very cautious when I hear the term food trends, by the way. I don't like to follow what people want because they could be skewed by bad science. I'm a scientist. And Huel, our brand, we're not follower. Okay, we're only six years old. We're still small, but I'm going to... Let me brag for a minute, please.
Joey Thurman: Brag away, it's fine.
James Collier: We've made well over $100 million per year. That's that's that turnover now. In six years old, we've gone from two of us to 170 employees. So we've established ourselves very quickly. And people hear about us now in the sports nutrition world and conventional nutrition world. Obviously, we were in the UK two years prior to being in America, and you've got a lot bigger country over there, but we've got a good presence in the UK and we're getting a really good presence in America.
So I'd like to think, maybe arrogantly, that people listen to us now. At Huel, we need to be ahead of the curve in knowing what sound science, not pseudo science, is telling us. Sound science doesn't just mean there's been one paper that showed X does Y. Replication is a big thing in science. So we need to be ahead of the curve on that. And if people come to our website, Huel.com, I don't just want them to come there and buy Huel. Obviously that's great if they do, but I want them to come to the website as a source of information. We've got loads of great articles on there that gives some really good information from basic to slightly more advanced on different areas of nutrition.
Yes, there about our ingredients, but we've got more general ones as well. I mentioned intermittent fasting. We've got one on that. And sustainability is key to us, so much so that we're just not nutrition, we're sustainable nutrition. We are a plant-based product. It's really important to us that we produce something that's ethical and with minimal impact on the environment. That's part of our mission statement, that everything we do has to be in that space. Our ingredients we use have to accommodate that. However, the and Sreedevi mentioned MCTs, the medium chain triglycerides, we do have them in most of our products. We had them in from day one. We weren't following the trend from that. They were there because I felt that a good nutritional need for [inaudible 00:19:29]. They're absorbed and metabolized slightly different to the long-chain triglycerides, and they're really key.
Now, as of derived from coconut, because they can come from Palm. And obviously, there's a concern that most of the Palm supply isn't sustainable. I know there are certain Palm plantations that are sustainable, but it's a very negative image of Palm, isn't there, at the moment. It's demonized. So we can get them equally well from coconuts that are sustainably sourced. So there's a lot we've got to think of. Just to summarize what I just said there, we don't want to be followers, we want to be leaders. So we don't just follow what people want. We want to educate people in what science is telling them that's best for them.
Joey Thurman: Yeah. Well, that's nice that you're a young leader and not a follower. And then people can go to your website and they can find information, obviously, just on on your ingredients, but additional resources as well, correct?
James Collier: Yeah, that's right. Yeah, in the guides and articles section.
Joey Thurman: Brilliant. Lauren, from your point of view, what is the pulse on clean and sustainability when choosing a product?
Lauren Rice: Once again, that's going to vary over a lot of things. That's going to vary between the sports. That's going to vary ownership, coaching, personnel like myself. But here's the thing that I think we're all touching around in terms of athletic performance, but we haven't really said, and I wanted to make sure that this is very clear. The thing that I love about Huel is, and James, you alluded to this, it's a meal. You just add water, cold water or warm water, and you have a complete nutritional supplement or substitute. Because those are two different things, so that's very, very important. And the most important part of that is time. Because if I'm working out six to 10 hours a day or training or playing or whatever we want to call it, there is a time factor in there where I'm going to promote or educate my clientele on a product that is good for them, that gets them the desired result, and most importantly, is time management effective.
Because if someone is training up to 10 hours a day, they don't necessarily have, unless they have a professional chef... Some do, which is whole nother story. But a lot of times what you run into with elite athletes and celebrities is they like to stop and pick up junk. Well, we know now that whatever you put in your body eventually comes out of your body and when you turn it into energy and that makes you a little bit less efficient, you may not recover as well. You may sleep poorly because of what you're putting in your body. So as long as something is clean and sustainable, it's very easy for me to take a product like a Huel and be able to go through each individual ingredient because we know what they all are, and I love that about you guys, James, by the way, and give this to a client and say, "This is what you need to do." And guess what? It only takes 45 seconds. And that's going to be very, very important also when you're training multiple times a day, because we know that the nutrient window is a big deal.
Joey Thurman: Yeah. That's a huge point, man, because you talked about professional athlete versus weekend lawyer versus somebody that just wants to aesthetically look good. And to James's point, that's why they have so many different products. If you're working out six or 10 hours a day, you need to take that nutrition in, let it absorb so you can get your next session in, so you can have your massage therapist or PT or whoever help you recover so you can get ready for that next exercise section, correct? Now, Sreedevi, you're a resident fortune teller, as we like to say. What are the other interesting areas with performance nutrition?
Sreedevi K: So we have been close. They're looking at performance nutrition for quite some time because we have seen a lot of activities in the space, and we have uncovered that there are three major trends that are going to mainly impact the whole [inaudible 00:23:49] market. So the first thing which we have not touched base upon as of now is the ability to have customized products. So everybody is concerned about what they are having, how much are they having, what they're having, how much are they having. What is the impact of the supplement or the protein powder that they are consuming? So, and they want to modulate that, so as the output is optimum. The body figure or the body fat, whatever they want to achieve, is optimum. So, consumers are willing to have the option where they could customize ingredients themselves, not to 100% percent is not possible. However, there may be options where they can modulate the protein content or some fat content, so those kinds of customization is in demand. Consumers are really interested to have such kind of products, so that will definitely give rise to interesting additives, interesting proteins, and the list goes on. So, that is a first major trend that we observed.
The second major trend as we have all been discussing is eating clean, eating healthy, and eating green. So, natural ingredients with the minimum amount of additives is the way to go because consumers they're not concerned about any synthetic additives anymore. They want to eat as healthy as possible, as natural as possible. So, that is the second major trend that we've seen.
And the third major trend is the holistic wellness quotient of what we'd like to call as the wellness quotient of the product, because for the past one and a half years, or probably maybe two, we don't know how long this is going to go, everybody has been locked up. So, we need to have products that will uplift the overall nutritional value of our food products, right? We need additional supplements from these products. We need all sorts of vitamins, minerals, whatever additional nutrients you can consume should be encompassed in such a way that it's easily consumable. Like Huel's products, for example. So, these are the three major trends that we see are going to change the face of the performance nutrition product in the future.
Joey Thurman: Perfect, and that's a nice segue way. Thank you for that. You should be hosting this segment. James, what's on deck for Huel?
James Collier: We've got the products I've mentioned, and like I said, we've grown very quickly. We're only six years old, and three years ago, we had the Huel bar, but we really only had the one Huel powder, which is the one in the white pouch, and obviously, Huel was great, but it had its limitation at that point. It was what it was. If somebody wanted a bit more protein, they'd have to mix some other protein powder in. If they wanted lower carb, that wouldn't be an option, so when we bought the Huel Black Edition, and now more recently, the Huel Complete Protein, we've got not just three options, we've got multiple options because you can combine them in different ways.
You can hack your own Huel with Huel, if you like, which is what I do personally, but also, Sreedevi mentioned a while ago about the off notes with some of the protein powders. That's really important, I think, because it's challenging. Okay? It can be really challenging, and pea protein is very nutritious and relative to other plant proteins it's quite affordable. So, it's the one you want to be using in your portfolio.
More recently, we brought in hemp protein as well, but we've also brought in the faba bean protein in our Complete Protein product, because it is more palatable. There's less off notes, and our MPD team tell me it's a lot smoother and easier to develop on. And on those guys, our MPD team at Huel are excellent. Okay? We've got several people in there now, we're growing, and they can play around with stuff, and these off notes that you mentioned, they seem to have done a cracking job in masking them and getting rid of them, so that they're a non-issue, which is great.
So, now we've got more people at Huel, we can be more innovative. We can look at more protein sources. We are talking to companies around the world who are on the cusp of new innovations, we're on their radar. We're having good conversations with them, so when they launch their products, then we can be one of the first to have them, but we're looking at new types of products as well. I obviously can't say what they are because that's trade secrets, but we're playing with more now, even if we don't release them all, to grab a wider variety of people, and remember, Huel's not just about athletes, although athletes really benefit from it. So yeah, we've got lots going on. Very, very busy, but very, very fun.
Joey Thurman: Amazing. I think I'm going to use cracking in my daily language much more often, you just sound much better. Lauren and I are just stuck in the States, we don't have as much of an eloquent accent as the both of you. I just want to say thank you all for joining me. It's been such a pleasure. I thank you so much.
James Collier: Thanks. Really enjoyed it.
Lauren Rice: Thank you for having us.
James Collier: That was a great session. Thank you for having us.
Joey Thurman: Thank you. Thank you so much for joining me for this Talk Session on Professional Performance Nutrition on Talking Plant Protein.