interview with new Provexis director John Clarke

John Clarke (JC), the former GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) senior executive, and new Non-Executive Director of Provexis, kindly took some time out to speak with about the opportunities ahead for sports nutrition and Provexis’ recently acquired Science in Sport (SiS) brand. (TB): How did this new position with Provexis come about?

John Clarke (JC): Having finished my 35 year career at GSK, where I served as President for 6 years, I saw this new position as a tremendous opportunity. During my time at GSK I was closely involved with the Lucozade brand, where we managed to generate annual growth of around 13% over the last 25 years, which must be a record! I’ve been closely involved with the sports nutrition category for all of these years and it’s fundamentally a category I enjoy. I’m very involved in sport in general. It’s also particularly rewarding to be developing products that improve athletic performance.

TB: When you were at GSK did [Provexis brand] SiS come up on your acquisition radar?

JC: To be honest at that time GSK was looking for a business of more significant size and Maxinutrition provided that fit. Although, if we step back and look at it objectively, for SiS and for Maxinutrition the drivers are very similar as are the go-to-market developments.

At this juncture, the opportunities for SiS are very significant, particularly when we look at global expansion. This is the most exciting piece, once we have further established SiS in the UK and built on its domestic strengths.

The outlook for SiS is tremendous, if we consider the marketing initiatives that have taken place thus far. It is already a well-entrenched brand with high levels of credibility. For all nutrition brands, going forwards, it is this credibility that is key.

TB: How important is the triathlon category to SiS?

JC: It is very important as triathlon is an extreme endurance sport. Again, going back to the point on credibility, any sports nutrition brand that can convince elites and extreme athletes about performance benefits will do well. It is these athletes that truly understand and appreciate the benefits of good, credible sports nutrition.

TB: Who do you see as the main competitors to SiS currently?

JC: A number of brands could be mentioned, such as PowerBar, Maxifuel, High5, Clif Bar and CNP. We don’t see Lucozade as a direct competitor though.

TB: Can you elaborate on why that is?

JC: Lucozade is consumed primarily by less serious athletes. It is a broad, mass market product. SiS, on the other hand, is consumed by those who have to get a performance gain. There is a clear differentiation here between a mass market product and a specialised, dedicated, performance-focused product. When dealing with elite athletes and those requiring a high level of performance, it is nigh on impossible to get them behind a mass market product.

TB: We’ve seen Gatorade reposition itself in recent months, going back to its performance roots as the originator of the sports drink category. Do you have any observations on this brand in particular?

JC: The Gatorade story is very interesting. It was indeed the pioneer of the sports drink. Yet it then got far too close to being a soft drink under previous administrations at PepsiCo. It has now gone back to its sports credentials. In some instances the brand name has gone from the product itself, which may be a little too far. But focusing back on performance and product credibility should be a good thing for the brand and the category overall.

TB: Overall, across the sports nutrition landscape, are there any product innovations or formats that you see as having particular potential going forwards?

JC: In some respects it’s difficult to beat a product that simply contains the best possible protein. One-shot protein drinks are interesting; and these are emerging well in the US. Here, Muscle Milk from CytoSport has led the way with a good tasting delivery of protein.

Yet in the UK, the ready to drink protein drink format hasn’t taken off as yet. In the US, the shot drinks category overall, including energy shots, is almost a billion-dollar business. There could be some room to scale up ready to drink nutrition, as long as the product is about credibility rather than mass market per se.

TB: Closer to home in Europe, there have been some regulatory challenges. What are your thoughts on the pending bill in the European Parliament that could require substantiation for all claims about nutrition and health?

JC: Broadly speaking we would support a move to require a substantiation of claims. In my view, products and brands should produce clinical based evidence to support claims. If we base sports nutrition on hard scientific data, we can move away from overclaiming. This then differentiates the ‘puffery’ from backed up scientific claims on performance. Ultimately, we are supporters of a system that requires provable claims.

TB: How will your experience at GSK be put to use at Provexis/SiS?

JC: Well, I have a broad range of experience across the category and an understanding of what’s required to make brands successful. Global knowledge will also be important going forwards.

There’s a clear model for success in the sports nutrition industry. Athletes are looking for performance and credibility. In tandem with this comes product costings and the necessary go-to-market strategies. Meanwhile, the web has become ever more important as an information tool and for e-commerce.

On an in-store basis, large multinational players usually have a significant advantage. Yet, new online models present more of a one-to-one engagement between the brand and consumer. So, the web presents a more level playing field. The consumer makes the choice about where to seek more information and ultimately what brands to buy. It is therefore a great time to be a targeted brand with high levels of credibility.

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