COVID-19: Gaming industry not the only gainer in sports world

Gaming industry is not the sole gainer in sports world at a time when COVID-19 pandemic has brought all the action to a complete halt. There is another sector, or a brand to be more precise from Indian perspective, that has grown up manifold in the past two months.

Esports and fantasy gaming made unprecedented gains in the past two months as the world was confined to homes under the threat of novel coronavirus. The gaming industry flourished in consumer/player base. In revenues. In investments and valuations. We all know that.

But what we did not know that one brand catering to athletes’ daily nutrition needs too benefited immensely at a time when there was no significant sports activity. When stadiums were shut. When training was down to bare minimum. When fitness freaks were away from gyms. When avid runners were managing with bare walks or shorter jogs. When the nutrient needs were down to bare minimum.

The signs all were worrying for the health supplement industry that catered to sportspersons’ daily needs for instant energy, regaining nutrients after long workouts. But Fast&Up business volume still maintained its pace – stayed up and fast.

Believe it or not this scenario of a feared disadvantage has  turned out to be a blessing in disguised for one of India’s leading and fastest rising nutrition and sports fitness brands Fast&Up.

SportzFront talked to the Fast&Up Chief Vijayaraghavan Venugopal over the weekend about the brand, its business and philosophy. But what he revealed during the conversation turned out to be a bigger headline than many other interesting facts about the brand, its products and the philosophy.

“We have registered a five-time growth in sales of our vitamin range in the past two months,” Venugopal revealed. “During the COVID-19 situation a lot of sectors have suffered badly. But health and nutrition has done surprisingly well. There is a new focus on immunity.”

There were no marketing drives to promote the company’s Vitamin C, multi vitamin, Omega 3 products. Awareness about these all spread through word of mouth via the brand’s strong consumer base, which has been educated and catered with high standards of nutrients by Aeronutrix Sports, the Fast&Up brand owner company.

Venugopal does not hesitate in accepting that the sale of the core product range is down, but gains are no less lucrative.

“For the last three months when the sport is down, it is the active nutrition side that has taken over. Demand for products which make you healthy and active and strengthen your immune system has increased considerably. Vitamin C, multi vitamin, Omega 3 have taken up. In the last three months that segment has done really very well for us. Our product range for the general population has in fact got a boost because of COVID-19. Awareness is increasing and everyone wants to be healthy, active.

“People are tending more on products they think will keep them healthy and safe. They are investing more on that and they are also reading. Searches on google for immunity and Vitamin C have increased by 200%.

“E-commerce platforms’ idea of which products will take off is very different from what it was say in February. Today there is a lot of interest in the health and immunity range.

“Six months back we would struggle to educate people why they need these products. But in this situation people are coming in huge numbers and taking these products as a daily habit.”

Fast&Up as a brand has started its journey from Europe towards the end of the first decade of this century. But it only took off after its rebirth in India with acquisition by Aeronutrix Sports. The company’s philosophy about educating the targeted consumer base rather than massive marketing campaigns has resulted in a steady growth.

Venugopal himself being an avid marathoner knew what right nutrition meant for athletes and how important it were to educate their potential consumer base in a market like India. “If you look at the history of sports nutrients in India, it was just a side business for large brands. But, it needed a very focused approach. We understood the needs of our clientele – the sportsmen,” says Venugopal.

“Pharma companies nutrition range has been disease-oriented. That is different than sports and fitness nutrition. We decided to focus on the latter category with pro-active range of products for people who want to stay active and healthy. Athletes in India were relying on products in powered form or bottled energy drinks. We came up with a range of effervescent products (in dissoluble tablet form) and built on that category. We filled that void.”

Today for Fast&Up products, in dissoluble tablet forms and energy gels, the consumer base expands from the individuals hitting roads and parks for runs, going for yoga, doing rigorous training in gyms to the Board of Control for Cricket in India, State cricket associations, Indian Premier League franchisees, some overseas cricket boards like Afghanistan, Ireland and the South African cricket team when they visited India and a whole range of country’s top athletes.

Company also succeeded in instilling a confidence in athletes that the products, handled by the brand itself from production to supply chain, are safe from banned substances. “It  was important to ensure a range of quality products free from any banned substances. We maintained quality standard with anti-doping watchdog compliance. We ourselves handled everything from manufacturing to delivery to the consumer. So it gave them (athletes) a tremendous confidence about the quality and content. We are a certified brand by the top global agency for being free from banned substances,” says Venugopal.

This has enabled Fast&Up maintain a steady three to four time growth over the last four years. The company is confident of maintaining that despite the major novel coronavirus impact on the sports sector when running, one of the company’s prime area of focus, is completely washed out and there will be no cricket action for months together. Gyms are not functional.

“The good thing is that even in this scenario individuals are trying to be active and fit. There are individual purchases, but the business at the team level is certainly affected. Even during April, when the business in India was the hardest hit we were out of action for only ten days,” says Venugopal.

Interestingly enough, the Fast&Up over the years has not just filled the huge void for quality nutrient products and education in the primarily ignored Indian sports sector where a majority still does not realise that nutrition is as big an element for an athlete to excel as talent, good coaching, logistics, support staff and quality training. It is now also set to make a mark in the global market, including Europe where the brand has not been able to take off after its berth in 2008.  “The brand came from Europe. After establishing ourselves in India, we are going out to the overseas market. We are already selling in Italy,” says Venugopal.

“We are hoping to launch our brand next month via e-commerce route in the UK and the USA. That will be the start of a process initially at a small scale. We are also exporting to other countries.”

While the brand has managed to mitigate the negative impact of novel coronavirus with the growing demand for its hitherto lesser-traded products, CEO himself has been missing his love for long runs. So what keeps him going.

“Initial one two or three weeks were different. The world had undergone a lot of change. We could not go out. Slowly when you realised it’s going to stay, we are getting back into that phase where we break up our fitness activity into smaller segments. Now it’s also about that awareness that what’s possible and what’s not. After relaxation in lockdown, I have also started short runs with adequate protection. But group fitness activities are missed. Trying to live with the new normal,” he signs off.

Admin Sportz Front

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