The soda industry is facing major backlash for the amount of sugar in its beverages.
However, now consumers are realizing just how sugary sports drinks can be — and it’s causing major changes in the industry.
A 32-oz. bottle of PepsiCo-owned Gatorade has 54.4 grams of sugar, more than the recommended limit for an entire day. Coca-Cola-owned Powerade is similarly packed with sugar, with 32 ounces clocking in at 56 grams.
The excess sugar is necessary if you’re working out for an extended period of time, like a long distance runner or cyclist would be. However, for the average person, more than 50 grams of sugar in a single bottle is way too much.
Food bloggers such as the popular Food Babe have called sports drinks “one of the worst things you could put in your body,” because of their non-natural ingredients and refined sugar. High-calorie sports drinks have been banned from public school vending machines across the US.
In light of the backlash, sports beverage brands are launching new innovations to keep customers.
In addition to offering the lower-calorie G2, Gatorade is aggressively marketing the fact that it provides different drinks for consumers with different needs. High-sugar offerings are marketed as geared towards athletes needing energy, carb-heavy picks for endurance athletes, and lower-calorie options are for simple hydration.
In addition to adding lower-calorie and sugar options, companies are attempting to cash in on the growing thirst for natural beverages.
In 2014, Gatorade cut brominated vegetable oil from its ingredients list after a 15-year-old girl started an online campaign for the company to change its formula, with Powerade ditching the ingredient a year later. Last year, Dr Pepper paid $20 million for a 11.7% stake in BA Sports Nutrition, the maker of BodyArmor, a sports drink sweetened with cane sugar and free of artificial colors and flavors.
However, many consumers want more, seeking beverages that fit their individual nutritional needs. The next frontier for sports beverage brands: endless options.
Gatorade is testing small pods of liquid formulated to fit users’ individual needs (as measured by Gatorade’s sweat patch) that snap into bottles of Gatorade. PepsiCo is additionally planning to launch an organic Gatorade later this year. If users choose to purchase drinks filled with sugar or artificial ingredients as these new choices become available, the onus is on them — not Gatorade.
Parent companies are additionally investing in options outside of the typical sports beverage market. Nutrition experts have begun advising consumers to swap out Gatorade for options like coconut water with less artificial ingredients and sugar. At the same time, Pepsi and Coke have invested big in brands like ZICO coconut water, sparkling waters, and Suja Juice.
If beverage giants want to attract customers, they need to offer a variety of drinks targeting athletes of all kinds, from traditional sports drinks to new takes on water.
Growing knowledge of sports beverages’ ingredients is driving both pushback and speedy change in the industry. In 2016, highly personalized understanding of what “healthiness” means is the greatest signifier of nutrition — a fact that Gatorade is ready to cash in on.