Former international swimmers, Lee Forster and Charlie Turner, have long felt that the supplements market is in need of a serious change of direction. In a market dominated by hardcore messaging, they believe that the growing mainstream audience really craves simplicity and transparency, and that their new brand, Neat Nutrition, has the answer.
We met with Lee and Charlie to learn where the supplement market is currently going wrong, what they propose to do differently and why the market is ready for such a big shift.
How do you feel the fitness market as a whole is currently changing?
In the last 10 years fitness has become far more important to people. Rather than people defining themselves with a sports car or rolex, they’re doing so through their latest triathlon or selfies from the gym. People are far more body conscious than they used to be but in a good way. They want to be the best version of themselves and they take it extremely seriously. For many their outlay on exercise and nutrition is one of the most protected parts of their budget and the last thing to go in times of cutbacks.
What’s driving this change?
There are lots of factors but the real driver is a cultural one. Back in the 90’s the role models were very different. Somehow the Gallagher brothers didn’t strike you as spending too much time worrying about their fitness. Whereas now we’ve got celebrities like Ellie Goulding running six miles a day and sharing her workout and nutrition tips with her fans online. The desirable body shape amongst celebrities is shifting from skinny to strong and like anything, once the celebrities and early adopters jump on board people everywhere want to join them.
Health and fitness has always been a huge part of our lives, but we really noticed a shift into mainstream consciousness after the London Olympic Games. Suddenly we as a nation were surrounded by fit, healthy and strong athletes and these people, men and women, became role models. Since then, being fit is fashionable.
The only problem, and it’s a big one, is education. We see so many kids now taking protein for example, but only one in a hundred could tell us why. Fortunately there has been so much money and energy poured into professional sports nutrition over the last 20 years that this knowledge is slowly starting to trickle down to the masses, but it’s a slow process and one that we hope we may be able to play a small role in accelerating.
How has the supplements market responded to this change?
The short answer is not at all well. Supplement brands weren’t built for the mainstream, they were built for the extreme, and consequently ordinary people are completely alienated. If I type in “protein” into Google I’m going to get 100 results, most of which show extreme body-builders with over-developed muscles. . Many of these images are connected to products that have countless ingredients that even we as professional athletes don’t recognise. In a world increasingly dominated by organic, transparent and ethical messaging, particularly where food and drink is concerned, these synthetic products are completely missing the mark.
There has been some attempt to change, softening names and packaging for example but it’s not easy to alter a public image that you’ve developed over the past two decades.
Even some of the new brands that have emerged trying to specifically target this more mainstream market are only doing so superficially. The messaging may have been toned down but the ingredients are as mystifying as ever.
Neat Nutrition has only just launched but your brand seems to have already made quite a splash, particularly online. What’s your strategy been?
It’s all about bringing simplicity to the product. A small number of products each with a small number of natural ingredients. Where possible we have sourced certified organic ingredients and ensured that all of our products are non GMO and free from artificial colours, flavourings and sweeteners.
It is our intention to keep refining this process so that in the future all of the products that can be organic, are organic. We are constantly researching new suppliers to make this happen.
Certain products such as BCAA’s and Creatine will never be organic but we have ensured that we have sourced the highest grade product available that is free from any kind of fillers to ensure that each of the Neat Nutrition products embodies the core principles of the brand – simplicity and transparency.
The challenge came with finding suppliers that were prepared to work this way. We met with lots of different manufacturers around the UK and eventually formed a relationship with someone that we felt we could really collaborate with. From there we decided on a small range of products (never more than 15) that we ourselves as professional athletes would want in our kitchen. If we couldn’t clearly explain why we would use a particular product then it was chopped!
Is there not a danger that by taking this approach you inflate your costs and therefore price yourselves out of the market?
Neat is an aspirational brand and that’s how we want it to be. If it’s not the brand that you start with, it’s the one that you want to ultimately end up with. . We cannot waver on that. It’s at the absolute heart of the brand and the moment we compromise and say “this’ll do” is the moment we become just the same as everyone else.
What role does social media play in your strategy?
Throughout the entire development process we were constantly thinking about social media. Social media is all about transparency and we wanted the simplicity of our products to be as visible as possible.
Furthermore fitness is one of the most dominant themes on social media; half the accounts on Instagram alone seem to be dedicated to gym selfies and workouts. So over the last six months we’ve been identifying those people active on social media that we feel embody the core values of Neat, and we’re now building relationships with these people as ambassadors of the brand.
The response has been astonishing and we’ve had some terrific support already, people really want to be associated with the brand which is a great feeling. Every week we’re being approached by people hoping to be part of the Neat story, it’s a pretty exciting time.