Namedsport managing director David Hannah speaks to Rebecca Morley about the origins of the sports nutrition company and what it hopes to achieve in the UK market.
Named, pronounced Na-med, is an Italian company with a 20-year history of selling health food supplements to the pharmacy chain in Italy. In 2014, it added some sports products to its range which ultimately became Namedsport, which is now a separate company in its own right. “Although we are sister companies, Namedsport has its own structure,” says managing director David Hannah. “That helps us understand ingredients and formulations, and we had a ready channel for distribution in that the existing sales had something to bring into the stores.”
The predominant channel in Italy for both companies is pharmacy sports shops, gyms and bike shops, and many pharmacies carry the sports range as well. This is different to the UK market, Hannah says, where Boots and the independent pharmacy chains carry very little sports nutrition. “We deal with Boots the chemist in Italy, but obviously here they don’t have anything in this category, so in the future maybe they’ll do it. Look at what the supermarkets are now doing with sports nutrition. It could be in the future, I don’t see any sign of it yet but it’s a legitimate category in its own right in that area.”
Named is an acronym for natural medicine, and you’d be forgiven for not reading it as Na-med the first time. “All English speakers in the early days say ‘Namedsport’, and therein is the first part where we have a communication issue. Our customers that phone us on a daily basis now are saying Na-med. Once they are exposed to it, they understand,” Hannah says.
But what products does the company actually offer? “We have a range of functional products, and those functions cover hydration, energy, proteins, recovery and snacks. In an ideal world, all athletes would cover most of their needs from their regular diet. Unfortunately, that’s rarely practical. The supplements we offer have functional ingredients for specific times, like hydration, recovery or energy,” Hannah explains. “If you need 5,000 calories for a day of training, or 3,000 even, you may not practically want to eat that shortly before going on a bike. We find that certainly the professional athletes use these products where required, and they have applications to everybody. What we have to help people understand is when to use the products and that’s part of the education process. To help them, most of our key products use functional ingredients that are branded. You can find them online with their own independent research. As much as we are trying to educate people on product function, we’re helping them to understand what we’re putting in those products, to give them energy or hydration, and the feedback we get is very positive. People are interested in the development of ingredients, and for us, that’s an important part of the product make up.”
In 2017, Namedsport had its first involvement with Giro d’Italia, and at that point, it was only trading in Italy. “Giro d’Italia is a premium event over there, and the exposure we got through that event was phenomenal,” Hannah says. “That also included a number of the classics and some of the stage races. We are the title sponsor for those events as well as a partner. We do European wide premium events now, and with Eurosport covering them, we get a lot of exposure in the sport that we’re supporting. That high visibility helps retailers with activation. Activation is highly important for the brand, as we are not just committing our name to an event, we are at the event.
“We’re actually adding some theatre to it as well. That gives us the opportunity to sample, which we are highly committed to. We gave away nearly a million cycling bottles last year, a lot of sampling for gels and bars. Because we don’t compete with our retailers, the retailers benefit in that we’re creating that awareness for them. We did that last year at Tour de Yorkshire and we’ll do it again this year.”
He says a lot of people saw what Namedsport committed to Giro d’Italia, and believes the company ‘took it to another level of what people had been doing previously’. It also has four world tour teams as ambassadors, and as the teams’ personnel move around, they take products with them. “We are highly visible, not only at the event, but with the teams as well,” he says. “If you follow any of the riders on Instagram, you’ll see they are heavily engaged on social media. A lot of them are voluntarily helping the brand with exposure and that’s one of the strongest points. Unlike other professional sports where you’re held at a distance, cycling has this close community where we at the races are speaking with the riders, the team doctors. It’s more a small family moving around from event to event.”
The brand has seen success in Italy, but Hannah admits that in the UK it has been a ‘slow build’. “The UK penetration level for sports nutrition isn’t quite as high as some other countries. There’s room for all the brands that exist now if we can do our bit to grow the penetration level. That’s where I see the cycling stores perhaps having multiple brands in store, not just one or the other. The internet’s a major factor in that, but we’re not crashing prices on our website so we’re supporting the retailers in that respect. Hopefully, that is what is going to endear us to the retailers that are out there. The cyclists see us subliminally as well. When we did Tour de Yorkshire, quite a lot of people said: ‘I saw this, but I didn’t know what it was’. We always knew that would take some time. But we’re in year two now, and we are definitely a brand that people have heard of.”
In order to penetrate the UK market, Namedsport is looking to work closely with bike shops. Hannah says he is impressed by what bike shops are doing at the moment to survive in a struggling retail environment, with some opening cafes to increase engagement in their community. He says the company has different ranges for different channels, with protein-based products aimed at the gym channel and more specialist ranges aimed at the bike channel. But he says the more familiar people are with the brand, the better.
“We have a number of dedicated distributors for whatever channel we’re in,” he explains. “We also have our own sales force on the road that supports those. For the IBD channel in the UK, we’re working with Raleigh, and the fact that they are that well known is an advantage for us. It’s interesting times. The company is growing unbelievably rapidly, from just Italy we now have daughter companies in Spain and the UK. Month by month we’re finding more and more distribution. That’s all on the back of the pro Tour cycling season. People are seeing us there and this is a brand that’s bringing something a little bit different to the market.
“A lot of us were involved in sports nutrition for a number of years with another brand. We all got together on this one and it’s a different sport. What I like about cycling is that it’s growing in the number of people doing it. I was quite surprised by the Cycle Show in that the age group was slightly older than I imagined it was going to be. I’m finding out all of these things through experience.
“There is a similarity in the bike trade to the health club trade in that everybody wants to sell additional products but their core business is fixing and selling bikes, and in the health club industry it’s selling memberships. And when they go to retail they need to adhere to some retail principles, and some are better than others at it. There are some incredibly savvy, well-prepared cycling retailers and I think they are the people that embrace change and they’re looking at different ways to do it, for example, cafes or making their shops clubhouses for ride outs. It’s not one way, you have to adapt as things go on.”
So what are the brand’s goals for 2019? “We want to broaden our reach in the cycling channel, and we have aspirations to grow our business in the gym channel where historically people have used sports nutrition, but again it will be with another part of our brand, and really build on the brand recognition. We have to do more to be seen. We will support not only top-level cycling but also grassroots,” Hannah concludes.