Propel taps into booming immune health trend, heads into 2021 with full innovation pipeline

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: Propel
Photo: Propel

Related tags Propel Gatorade Immune health Vitamin c Zinc

Projecting its sixth straight year of double-digit growth, PepsiCo-owned Propel is taking advantage of the recent surge in consumer interest around immune health with the launch of its Immune Support line containing vitamin C and zinc.

Marketed as an electrolyte (from sodium and potassium) bottled water with zero calories and sugar (sweetened with sucralose) that supports “next level hydration,”Propel​ (part of the Gatorade brand family) has successfully towed the line between functional bottled water and sports drinks categories, both of which continue to register solid growth.

According to 2018/2019 Euromonitor data for the US nonalcoholic beverages market, flavored bottled water, functional bottled water, and sports drinks have seen retail value growth of 7.9%, 7.7%, and 6%, respectively.

And while the market for ‘enhanced’ waters containing electrolytes and added essential vitamins has expanded exponentially since Propel launched nearly 20 years ago, the brand has managed to maintain its active, fitness-focused audience, said Laura Gardner, senior director active fitness platform, Propel.

“Our brand has never been stronger. The key to success over the years has been maintaining relevance in fitness culture and continuing to innovate based on exerciser needs – both in form and in function. Propel is projecting its sixth straight year of double-digit growth and is outpacing the growth of the enhanced water category by nearly double,”​ Gardner told FoodNavigator-USA.

Gardner said the brand intends to continue its growth trajectory and that its added immune function -- 100% of the recommended Daily Value of vitamin C and at least 30% Daily Value of zinc per bottle – will help it capture additional growth opportunities.

“These amounts were chosen to offer those with active lifestyles a way to help replace electrolytes lost in sweat, while also helping to support a healthy immune system,”​ she said.

Propel Immune Support which comes in two flavors (orange raspberry & lemon blackberry) are available currently available in Sam’s Club locations with a nationwide launch planned for early 2021.

Immune health, a bankable trend?

Google Trends data for the last 12 months shows a clear spike in searches for ‘immune health’, vitamin C, and zinc in March and April of this year, but the frenzy seems to have tapered off with some less drastic peaks in recent months.

However, immune health will be an important growth driver for the functional food category now and throughout 2021, according to Innova’s Consumer Survey 2020​. The report found that six out 10 global consumers are looking for food and beverage products that support their immune health, and one in three respondents said that their concerns of immune health increased in 2020 compared to 2019.   

Weakened immunity concerns tend to kick up a notch while exercising or performing activities, according to research​by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, which says acute bouts of strenuous exercise can depress the immune system for up to 24 hours and may weaken immune defenses against pathogens and microorganisms.

While immune health is top of mind for many food and beverage brands at the moment, Gardner notes that immunity has been a key focus for Gatorade and Propel’s product development for some time.

“The R&D behind Propel Immune Support began prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and has been within our innovation consideration set,”​ she said.

Plans for 2021

Asked about future launches from the brand, Gardner said, “We’ve never had more innovation in our pipeline.”

She disclosed the launch of a Propel-branded water bottle which will launch exclusively on Amazon this month with expanded distribution to follow next year.

“Looking further ahead to 2021, a new flavor of Propel will be introduced nationwide early in the year and the entire Propel portfolio will see a packaging refresh that will more prominently showcase the products’ functional benefits, delicious flavors, and vibrant personality,”​ she said, adding that the brand refresh would be supported by a full 360-degree campaign.

“We’ll also continue to double down on innovating in function and form, with an eye towards sustainability (launching a Propel dissolvable table next year that consumers can mix into their own water bottles).”

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