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Cracking the sports drink market

Seems big dairy really wants a piece of the lucrative sports drink market — a market that's worth somewhere close to $4 billion a year in North America.

Strong demand for sports drinks and bottled water have fuelled sales growth for companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi — even while they sell less of their traditional carbonated drinks. Coke owns Powerade — which last year saw sales rise 28 per cent in the U.S. Pepsi started peddling Gatorade after it acquired Quaker Oats in 2001. At that time, Gatorade held more than 80 per cent of the sports drink market.

And that market is growing as an increasingly health-conscious population turns away from those old-time sugary, bubbly favourites. Many of the sports drinks also contain substantial amounts of sugar.

The dairy industry has been taking notice. In October 2005, a "new study" received a fair bit of media attention. Researchers at Indiana University in Bloomington found that chocolate milk is at least as effective as Gatorade and Endurox R4 as a recovery drink for endurance athletes. The combination of protein and carbohydrates is what did the trick.

The study — in part paid for by the American dairy industry — came as North American milk sales stagnated. In Canada, sales of chocolate milk are flat or down slightly over the past couple of years.

Four months after the first reports about the study, it once again began to make the media rounds. This time, Gatorade struck back, as the Washington-based Milk Processors Education Program (MilkPEP) launched an advertising campaign — the Finish Line program — citing the study as proof that chocolate milk helps athletes work out longer than conventional sports drinks.

MilkPEP has details about the Finish Line program on its website, but you have to be a registered user to get them. However, if you want to launch a public relations campaign touting the benefits of chocolate milk, you can download a template from their site, complete with suggested quotes from unnamed local experts:

“Chocolate milk makes perfect sense for athletes,” said [Local Sports Nutritionist]. “I’m happy to see athletes choosing real foods, like chocolate milk, to refuel after a race. Plus, no other sports drink contains the nutrient package found in chocolate milk.”

You get to fill in the blanks.

The same study turned up as news again just last week.

Gotta make you wonder. Yeah, there's an opportunity to tap into a market. And if you have almost $3,000 US to spend, you can get detailed advice on how to do it.

Everyone's got their favourite post-exercise drink. Trial and error usually determines what's best for you. Of course, you're free to base your decision on the advice of local expert, [insert name here].

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