"MuscleBlaze has crossed its pre-lockdown sales levels for 3 months in a row"
COVID-19 has fast-tracked the adoption of healthy lifestyle and nutrition, which is gradually evident in the sports nutrition market as well. The growth of 90%, 50% and 20% in categories like VMHS, Healthy Foods and Proteins from their pre-COVID levels reaffirms this shift in consumer behaviour.
Since its inception, MuscleBlaze, a leading sports and fitness nutrition brand, has always focused on industry first innovations – be it an authenticity check mechanism, lab tested product reports, clinically researched products, etc. The brand recently roped in actor & world-renowned martial artist Vidyut Jammwal as their brand ambassador for two years.
In conversation with Adgully, Sameer Maheshwari, Founder, MuscleBlaze, provides some insight on the performance of MuscleBlaze during the pandemic period, key initiatives taken, growth of the Health nutrition and Sports Nutrition sector, the road ahead and more.
How has MuscleBlaze performed during the pandemic times? Which markets saw the most traction in the pre-COVID times and how has that changed now? Are you looking at penetrating newer markets?
It would be incorrect to say that MuscleBlaze was unaffected by the pandemic. With the gym closures and uncertainty around the pandemic initially, we were severely hit during the initial couple of months. However, riding on the habit shift of consumers from gym workouts to home workouts, enhanced focus on preventive healthcare and resumption of gym services, our recovery rate has surpassed our expectations. We have, in fact, crossed our pre-lockdown sales levels for 3 consecutive months now and hope to stay strong going forward.
Regionally speaking, North has been our stronghold, followed by West and South, which is still the case. However, we are seeing uptick in our orders from the East as well and we hope to capture even higher market share in the region.
Within the regions, an interesting trend is that the share of orders from the Metros and Tier markets 1 has decreased from the pre-lockdown levels and the growth is being led by consumers from other cities. One of the reasons is also the shift of our channel mix towards online channels, which have a pan India serviceability, while our offline channels are oriented towards Metros and Tier 1.
What has been your marketing strategy during these times? How are you allocating your budget and what’s the share of digital in the overall spends?
In terms of the media mix, there is no significant change owing to the pandemic except for the fact that we have cut short on the offline activations and events that we participated in. What this has led to is an even higher allocation to our existing digital spends.
The marketing strategy though has been altered to keep up with the changing consumer and category trends. Digital consumption of the audiences has gone up drastically and so has the engagement levels on the social media platforms. Taking cognizance of the same, we did a lot of engagement campaigns during the period. Also, we have strived to put forth home workout routines for the consumers as well.
On a category spend level, the spends have been aligned with the categories doing well or experiencing a surge in demand. For instance, the spends for VMHS category has been enhanced, while that for strength and recovery drinks has been rationalised basis consumer demand.
Other than these nuanced details, at a brand level we have always tried to resonate with the passion of our customers and strived to keep their motivation level high. We plan to do the same with Vidyut and our upcoming campaign to support the fitness revolution in India.
Please tell us about your upcoming campaigns and your partnership with Vidyut Jammwal.
The beautiful thing about our consumers is their passion for fitness and the drive to be a better version of themselves. This is something we love about the category and thus, all our campaigns have focused on motivating our consumers by resonating with their passion for fitness on screen. And this is something which we shall continue to do in the future as well.
To us, Vidyut represents this genuine passion for fitness while sharing the brand’s belief of “We understand fitness”. We feel his expert knowledge on extreme forms of fitness such as martial arts and animal movement fitness will excite our audience and our collaboration with him will help drive not just the mission of ‘Fit India, but Super Fit India’.
How has the pandemic affected your sector? What are your key learnings and how did MuscleBlaze sustain through this time?
Like I said previously, the initial impact of the pandemic was severe for us, with the sector roughly operating at 1/3rd or 1/4th of the pre-COVID levels. However, the recovery for us started as early as May and we have been doing consistently better than our pre-COVID levels since the last 3 months.
What this recovery indicates is that Health and Fitness as a phenomenon is only going to witness an uptrend in the country. Also, several customer interactions during the period indicated protein supplements being a necessity rather than a discretionary spend for fitness enthusiasts. This is also manifested in the fact that protein supplements were both our most resilient and fastest recovering category after VMHS (Vitamins, Minerals Health Supplement).
One of the other key trends which emerged is the focus on immunity enhancing formulations and an uptick in their sales. Based on the insight, our R&D team worked tirelessly during this period to work on formulations and necessary approvals to provide our customers with products which are solely focused on boosting immunity and act as a one stop solution for their immunity and protein needs. We were the first ones to introduce an immunity focused Whey protein to this effect, which helps provide the requisite RDA value of several immunity-based ingredients along with the protein needs of the consumer.
Please tell us about some key initiatives that were carried out during the lockdown to keep messaging alive.
It is ironical that while COVID-19 impacted our business negatively, our digital or social platforms garnered positive traction on the back of increased media consumption. Followers or subscribers’ growth rate was up by 20% and 30%, respectively, for Instagram and YouTube.
As bodybuilding is a passion driven category, all our communications have been focused on celebrating this shared feeling of passion and drive of our consumers. With COVID-19 making a significant impact on the workout schedule, we envisaged a lot of new consumers dropping out of the category. A lot of our early stage communication was thus aligned towards providing the knowledge and motivation to these customers to be perseverant in their journey. These included home workout schedules, recipes, etc.
The primary focus at a later stage was motivating our followers. We did this using a mix of platforms like digital competitions such as #PlanNayaZiddVahi or Mr Ziddi, an online bodybuilding competition for those who had gone the length to keep their fitness journey alive and kicking despite all the odds. These were earnest efforts from our end to recognise and reward the passion of the bodybuilding community.
It translated to higher engagement rates and word of mouth publicity for us eventually, but we consider these only as the by-product of our will to provide these guys with a platform to showcase their journey.
What does the future look like for MuscleBlaze and the entire protein supplement sector and nutrition sector?
To answer this question better, you need to understand the definition of Health nutrition and Sports Nutrition. Products which cater to audience leading an active or health conscious lifestyle are categorised as health nutrition products, while the ones which cater to a bodybuilding audience targeted towards muscle growth, endurance or high performance in sports are categorized as Sports Nutrition product.
With the pandemic, the impact is two-fold – Both health and sports nutrition will see faster recovery and then growth as a category and the boundaries between the categories will get thinner. For example, whey protein as a product was solely targeted at gym going enthusiasts, but in the recent we have seen an uptick with consumers indulging in activities like Yoga, cycling, etc.
With an increasing customer base, the challenge would remain in controlling the rise of spurious brands or manufacturers who do not adhere to the regulatory guidelines in the category. Going forward, things like clinical research, international certifications and international quality standards would thus come in heavy focus. These are things which we have already been working on will ensure in our brand to provide international grade supplements to all our consumers.