Japan sports nutrition leader Meiji eyeing 10% sales growth amid expanding market

By Tingmin Koe contact

- Last updated on GMT

Meiji's flagship sports nutrition label "SAVAS".
Meiji's flagship sports nutrition label "SAVAS".

Related tags: Sports nutrition, protein powder, protein bars, protein jellies

Meiji is aiming for 10.6% sales growth for its sports nutrition business amid a flourishing domestic market.

If the target is met, the firm will generate a sales figure of ¥$21.1bn (US$190m).

Not much is known about Meiji's sports nutrition portfolio outside of Japan. Besides dairy products, it is in fact a forerunner in the domestic sports nutrition space, led by the success of its flagship brand SAVAS, which was launched in the 1980s.

Along with nutritional food, sports nutrition products were the second best performing product for Meiji in FY2018/19, with sales rising 5% from JPY$15.2 (US$137m) to JPY$16 (US$144m), its latest financial report had shown.

Overall, Japan’s sports nutrition supplement market size grew 15.3% between 2016 and 2017, hitting JPY$47bn (US$), according to a report​ published by Yano Research Institute last year.

“The market has achieved a double-digit growth annually since year 2015. When looking at the market by nutrient, 60% of the entire market is occupied by protein which is expanding year by year, while amino acids are basically on the rise,” ​the report said.

Backed by a flourishing sports nutrition market, Kunihiko Kurihara from Meiji’s investor relations said in response to queries from NutraIngredients-Asia​ that the firm was eyeing for a 10.6% sales growth for this year.  

Both professional athletes and the general consumers would be the target audience.

“In addition to professional athletes, we also target consumers who exercise to stay in shape and middle-aged and elderly consumers who are health-conscious.

“We will expand our business scope by developing and promoting products that meet the physical needs and goals of each consumers,” ​Kunihiko said.

Aside from traditional players such as Meiji, private label firms are also competing for a slice of the pie.

For example, Topvalu from the AEON Group had launched a protein powder with sports specialist Mega Sports a year ago.

Trending demands

Protein supplements formed the bulk of Japan’s sports nutrition supplement at 59.1%, followed by amino acids supplements at 28.1% in 2017, according to Yano Research Institute.

As for Meiji, its chocolate flavoured SAVAS Whey Protein 100 was the top-selling sports nutrition product. Kunihiko also outlined the top three demands observed in Japan.

Firstly, there is a growing interest in sports protein products, which could come in the form of powder, beverages, jellies, and bars.

Second, as with most of the other markets, there is a shift towards the consumption of vegetable protein.

Lastly, he said that there was an interest in HMB supplements, which is a substance crucial for maintaining muscle health.

China: The first export destination

Meiji was planning to export its SAVAS sports nutrition products to China by March next year, Kunihiko revealed.

At present, the firm is only selling its sports nutrition products within Japan.

China is targeted as the health conscious trend is increasing and gaining greater attention in China than in Japan.

Collaborating with star player

Meiji is engaging professional athletes to beef up its expertise in sports nutrition. Last month, it signed a contract with Seiya Suzuki, a professional Japanese baseball player.

Under the collaboration, Meiji will provide nutritional support vital for Suzuki’s training and physique conditioning.

Commenting on the contract signing, Suzuki said that Meiji’s protein supplements had increased his muscle mass by 15kg within two years, which aided his advancement in becoming the main sprinter of his team.

In return, Meiji believes that the athletes could provide constructive insights on how to improve its sports nutrition products.

“We increase our product value by disseminating the facts that top athletes use our products and are getting our nutritional supports...We will also accumulate information from top athletes for our future product development,” ​Kunihiko said.

Another firm, Herbalife Nutrition, also recently said that partnering with professional athletes was crucial​ for sports nutrition brands to gather consumption data, improve product effectiveness, and build brand visibility.

As part of its sports initiatives, the firm conducted tours with America’s Major League Soccer (MLS) team, the LA Galaxy, in Indonesia and Japan last December.

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