Consumer demand for protein is driving activity across the entire natural products industry, with a bulk of innovation and growth continuing to happen in the sports nutrition and weight management space. This demand, paired with increasing interest in convenient delivery formats, sheds light on NBJ's growth estimates across categories. It is no coincidence that the two categories that have had the strongest growth over the past few years are also grab-and-go. Though it represents the smallest market share by annual sales, the strongest growth in the industry in 2015-2018 came from the functional sports beverage category, primarily made up of RTD protein beverages and carrying a CAGR of 15%. Nutrition bars and gels have had strong performance in the same time frame as well, with a CAGR of 8%.
This, of course, does not mean that protein powder is becoming the delivery format of yesterday. The sports nutrition powder category now rings in over $5 billion in annual sales, and had growth of 6.7% in 2018. However, differentiation is becoming increasingly important for manufacturers of protein powders, beverages and bars to remain relevant with today's active consumer. The target customer for protein products has certainly shifted from the hardcore gym user, and with this shift has come increased interest in diverse ingredients and claims. Key differentiators for protein now include clean label, plant-based and responsibly sourced.
Nutrition Business Journal just released these and other statistics in its 2019 NBJ Sports Nutrition and Weight Management Report, the go-to source for data and insight within the sports nutrition and weight management industry.