Cover Story: Gatorade refocuses on sports performance innovation
As The Gatorade Co., Chicago, embarked on the process to relaunch its portfolio of sports drinks, the PepsiCo division conducted consumer research. Just as its athletes and consumers take their performance to the next level, so did Gatorade. It conducted a comprehensive study of 10,000 elite high school athletes, sports health professionals and professional athletes nationwide.
“We spent time talking to the likes of Serena [Williams] and Usain Bolt but also 10,000 interactions with everyday athletes, and it was just so interesting to see how common the needs were,” says Gatorade’s Chief Marketing Officer Sarah Robb O’Hagan. “It was interesting for me to see the words coming out of a 14-year-old football player’s mouth were just the same as a professional player. It was amazing in a way.”
Gatorade learned from the interactions that athletes were looking for products that addressed the body’s specific needs for pre-, during and post-physical performance occasions. Consumers only were using Gatorade Thirst Quencher, G2 and respective sub-lines to quench and refuel during and occasionally post-performance, O’Hagan explained during PepsiCo’s Investor Meeting in March.
The brand’s research also showed the possibilities in the category as Gatorade was regarded for having a scientific formula and ranked as the No. 3 sports brand, after Nike and Adidas. O’Hagan joined Gatorade from Nike in mid-2008. The experience gained at Nike gave O’Hagan a perspective on the preferences of athletes, she says.
“I came into the business deeply understanding athletes, clearly more from the perspective of what they put on the outside of their body, and this was an opportunity to really understand what they put on the inside of their body,” she says. “But I think the single biggest commonality is the fact that the sports equipment companies have taught these consumers to have a voracious appetite for innovation for new products. I think that’s where, for me coming in here, it was easy to see there was an opportunity to take a brand like Gatorade, with an incredible strength and trust that it has against these very elite consumers and take it to so many more places.”
In February, Gatorade debuted the G Series platform on redesigned coolers on the sidelines of the Super Bowl. G Series products launched in April and are designed as a three-tiered product line formulated to meet the hydration and nutrition needs before, during and after a workout or competition. The G Series includes Prime 01 concentrated pre-performance carbohydrate gels, Perform 02, the rebranded identity of Gatorade Thirst Quencher and low-calorie G2; and Recover 03 protein-enhanced sports beverages.
The company next debuted elite platform G Series Pro that leverages formulas and insight from The Gatorade Sports Science Institute to meet the needs of professional and aspiring professional athletes. To fit in with this segment, the line was launched exclusively at specialty nutrition retailer GNC in May. Arranged in the same pre-, during and post-performance tiers, G Series Pro includes Prime 01 nutrition shakes, nutrition bars and carbohydrate energy sports drinks; Perform 02 endurance formulas and an electrolyte boosting powder; and Recover 03 protein shakes.
The G rebranding and G Series launches represent the company’s shift from a sports drink manufacturer to a sports performance innovation company, O’Hagan explains.
“I think one of our mantras that we’ve talked about a lot is that for some beverages innovation is really about being new and different like rolling out new flavors, but for a sports performance innovation company, innovation has to be about new and better, like providing products that really help the athlete improve their performance,” O’Hagan says.
Priming for the launch
Gatorade designed the relaunch in a multi-year approach tiered similarly to its new product line. The process began almost two years ago, O’Hagan says, and debuted publicly in early 2009 as the brand unveiled the G branding. The switch to G was a move to bring back the “heart, hustle and soul of the brand,” O’Hagan said during the investor meeting.
Last year’s G campaign connected strongly with Gatorade’s core athlete target and invited a broader range of athletes to think differently about, see themselves in and pay attention to the Gatorade brand, explains a Gatorade spokesperson. The new G branding also aimed to energize the brand for teens, which are a target demographic for the company, O’Hagan says.
“When you’re in your teen years is when you develop your sort of deep emotional connection with things,” O’Hagan says. “So it’s such an important time for us to begin the brand relationship with the consumer. We’ve always seen them as our focus.”
Gatorade also realized many of the athletes surveyed were deeply loyal to the brand, O’Hagan says.
“Serena [Williams] talked a lot about how she has been using the product since she was 4 years old,” she says. “For her to be part of the process of figuring out the next iteration of Gatorade was so exciting for her. It was also so interesting to see how important our products are within her training regimen and how excited she was, obviously, for what we were able to do with it.”
In addition, its research identified three segments of athletes: professional athletes, fitness athletes and performance athletes, O’Hagan said at the investor meeting. Fitness athletes are those who cannot get through their day without going to the gym and want products that help maximize their workouts. The brand estimates 55 million consumers are fitness athletes, and Gatorade only has 12 percent penetration within that market, she said.
The performance athlete category includes an estimated 68 million consumers, O’Hagan said during the investor meeting. Only 27 percent of performance athletes look to Gatorade to help them win, she said. The performance athlete category also contains teenage athletes who generally either progress to become professional athletes or fitness athletes.
To ensure Gatorade engaged the teen demographic, it re-evaluated its marketing strategy, O’Hagan says.
“I think it’s almost as if the world has sped up so much that we realized that we needed to step up our focus on that consumer and our thought process around how to connect with that consumer,” she says.
In April, Gatorade’s G Series Mobile Locker Room toured high schools across the country. The traveling professional-grade facility introduced competitive athletes to the benefits of the new G Series. Gatorade also interacts with teens and other consumers through the use of social media websites. It has approximately 700,000 Facebook fans and nearly 11,000 followers on Twitter.
“I think for us we are in a very enviable position in that we bring really valuable knowledge to the consumer,” O’Hagan says. “We have 40 years of science in The Gatorade Sports Science Institute, and this particular consumer base is looking for knowledge and we can provide that solution. So I think for us it was a very easy decision to empower the teen athlete community to take that knowledge and run with it. It’s certainly worked for us really well, and it’s something that we intend to keep pushing on.”
The 01-02-03 of G
In response to its interactions with athletes, Gatorade designed a three-tiered approach for both the G Series and G Series Pro. Both lines are structured around the Prime 01, Perform 02 and Recover 03 tiers with various product options in each tier.
The G Series starts with Gatorade Prime 01, a concentrated carbohydrate, electrolyte and B vitamin-fortified pre-game fuel available in a 4-ounce pouch. Gatorade’s research indicated athletes were looking for energy to kick-start their activity but did not want to feel full. Prime 01 is designed for use within 15 minutes before a workout or competition and contains 25 grams of carbohydrates, 110 mg. of sodium, 35 mg. of potassium and 10 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamins B3, B5 and B6. The pre-performance fuel is available in Orange, Fruit Punch and Berry flavors.
Gatorade Thirst Quencher beverages and low-calorie G2 remain the option for rehydration during activity and were designated as Gatorade Perform 02 within the G Series. Gatorade’s performance formula remains the same, but the brand reformulated to contain sucrose and dextrose as sweeteners and to provide carbohydrate energy. The low-calorie G2 formula has the same amount of electrolytes, but contains 5 grams of carbohydrates compared to Gatorade’s 14 grams.
For post-performance muscle recovery, Gatorade developed Recover 03, which contains protein, carbohydrates and electrolytes with the consistency of a sports drink. The beverage is recommended to be consumed within 30 to 60 minutes after an activity. Recover 03 is available in 16.9-ounce bottles that contain 16 grams of protein, 14 grams of carbohydrates, 250 mg. of sodium and 95 mg. of potassium. The third tier is offered in Strawberry-Kiwi, Lemon-Lime-Orange and Mixed Berry varieties.
To introduce the new platform, G Series debuted in television ads during the start of the NBA Playoffs in April. The company ran two commercials back-to-back. The first ad, called “Gatorade Has Evolved,” took viewers back to the time when basketball hoops were made of peach baskets, tennis racquets were wooden and the only hydration option was water. The commercial then showed the athletes, such as basketball’s Michael Jordan and soccer’s Mia Hamm, it has fueled since it was introduced in 1965. Finally, the evolution reaches 2010 as G Series changes sports performance once again, the company says.
The retrospective ad set the stage for “Before, During and After,” an ad that tells the story of the G Series products and usage occasions. In the ad, track world record holder Usain Bolt, professional basketball player Dwight Howard and professional football player Peyton Manning document their experiences as they prepare before the race, perform during competition and recover after a game with G Series products.
At retail, the brand created new signage and displays to communicate the three tiers of G Series and their benefits, a Gatorade spokesperson says. The in-store branding also was important for the launch of G Series Pro at GNC stores in May.
G Series Pro products are promoted as formulas that originally were developed by The Gatorade Sports Science Institute and previously only available in locker rooms and specialized training facilities. Also arranged for pre-, during and post-performance consumption, the G Series Pro features protein shakes, nutrition bars, powdered beverage mixes and sports drinks.
For the G Series Pro launch, Gatorade partnered with the specialty nutrition retailer, which has approximately 5,500 locations nationwide, O’Hagan says.
“GNC alone has been such a predominant player in taking the idea of elite nutrition and making it more accessible to everyday people,” she says. “I think 10 years ago that wasn’t quite so well defined, so now what we found from our exploratory conversations with them was that they have these consumers coming in every day who were asking for these products that we had and it was just so clear that the time had arrived.”
Gatorade recently expanded distribution of G Series Pro to include Dick’s Sporting Goods. The strategy of distributing G Series Pro through these non-traditional channels represents the transformation from sports drink company to sports performance innovator, a Gatorade spokesperson says. O’Hagan also hints that the company has “aggressive plans” to expand G Series Pro’s distribution.
The platform begins with G Series Pro Prime 01 Nutrition Shake, which was designed to be consumed three to four hours before training or competition, Gatorade says. The product was formulated to help elite athletes meet their daily calorie needs to optimize performance and contains 20 grams of milk protein isolate, 54 grams of carbohydrates, 280 mg. of sodium, 400 mg. of potassium and 15 vitamins and minerals. An 11.16-ounce carton contains as many as 370 calories and is available in Chocolate, Strawberry and Vanilla.
Two or more hours before competition, Gatorade recommends eating its G Series Pro Prime 01 Nutrition Bars that contain macronutrients and a blend of 15 vitamins and minerals. The bars are available in Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter Crunch and Oatmeal Raisin varieties.
Rounding out the pre-performance tier is G Series Pro Prime 01 Carbohydrate Energy Drink. The sports drink was designed with 82 grams of carbohydrates, 220 mg. of sodium, 60 mg. of potassium, as well as 25 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamins B3, B5 and B6. The beverage is packaged in 12-ounce bottles and available in Grape, Fruit Punch and Orange flavors. Gatorade’s research found that drinking the 330-calorie Carbohydrate Energy Drink prior to and in conjunction with Gatorade or G2 helps sustain carbohydrate use in working muscles, the company says.
Gatorade enhanced the electrolyte content in the elite platform’s variety of Gatorade Thirst Quencher. Known as G Series Pro Perform 02 Endurance Formula, it delivers almost twice the sodium and more than three times the potassium of traditional Gatorade Thirst Quencher. Available as ready-to-drink beverages, powdered mixes and stick packs, the Endurance Formula is recommended to drink during activity to match sweat rates. The product is available in Lemon-Lime, Fruit Punch and Orange varieties.
In addition, the G Series Pro Perform 02 line includes G Series Pro Gatorlytes electrolyte mix especially for cramp-prone athletes. The mix was formulated to be added to Perform 02 beverages and boosts the sports drink’s content to contain 34 grams of carbohydrates, 1,060 mg. of sodium, 470 mg. of potassium, 70 mg. of calcium and 40 mg. of magnesium.
For post-performance recovery, Gatorade developed the G Series Pro Recover 03 Protein Recovery Shake. The shake is designed to deliver carbohydrates for glycogen restoration and contains a blend of fast-acting whey and slow-acting casein derived from milk protein isolate for muscle recovery. It also provides essential amino acids needed to help facilitate muscle protein rebuilding. Gatorade recommends consuming one 8-ounce serving from the 16.9-ounce carton 30 to 60 minutes after activity and drinking the additional serving two hours later. Recover 03 Protein Recovery Shake is available in Chocolate, Strawberry and Vanilla flavors.
In addition to the G Series lines, Gatorade introduced G Natural and G2 Natural, which are available at select Whole Foods Markets. The products also were a result of company research, which indicated a significant group of athletes were looking for the benefits of a proven sports drink like Gatorade Thirst Quencher but prefer to consume only natural products, a Gatorade spokesperson says.
The sports drinks are made with natural flavors, colors and ingredients. G Natural is available in Blackberry Raspberry, Lemon Berry and Orange Citrus flavors, while low-calorie G2 Natural includes Berry, Citrus Mango and Orange Pomegranate varieties. G Natural and G2 Natural are part of the G Series Perform 02 platform and can be included within the G Series or G Series Pro regimens, the company says.
Gatorade currently is focused on the launch of the G Series, G Series Pro and natural options, but O’Hagan says the first two stages of innovation were only beginning for Gatorade.
“As we go forward, this is just a step along the journey,” O’Hagan says. “We actually have a lot more to come because we’re really holding ourselves now to this idea of relentless innovation and making sure that pipeline is really fully stocked.”
The launches signify the company is primed for positioning as a sports performance innovation company, O’Hagan says.
“The idea of moving away from sports drinks to sports performance innovation means by definition we are segmenting to grow,” she says. “We are looking at the more nuanced needs of different athletes and making sure we are meeting those needs in unique ways. All I can say to that is keep looking for more from us because this is just the beginning of a journey that we’re really excited be on.” BI
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