How CrossFit Helped the Food Industry Boom – A Guest Post by Kristen Roberts
Kristen Roberts is the Founder and Managing Attorney at Trestle Law, a San Diego-based law firm that supports business owners in the Paleo/Primal, food, health, and fitness industries. She is also an avid CrossFitter and follows a Paleo lifestyle.
How CrossFit Helped the Food Industry Boom
It’s no secret that in the past seven years, the CrossFit Games have grown exponentially. And I’m not just talking number of spectators who come to watch the Herculean efforts of some of the world’s best athletes, but I’m also referring to the number of businesses that have capitalized on the CrossFit Games as a prime venue for growing their company’s overall brand recognition. Now, more than ever, the CrossFit Games is a legitimate fitness competition with staggering amounts of money on the line. On its webpage, the CrossFit Games recently announced that beginning in 2014, the total payouts available to athletes would increase to $1,750,000. Next year, the amount will jump to $2,000,000, with increased payouts of $200,000 each year until the total reaches $3,000,000 in 2020.
These amounts are nothing to laugh at, and companies are developing products, gear, clothing, foodstuffs, and much more that cater specifically to the Games athletes and the spectators who aspire to one day participate in the Games. In a way, the CrossFit industry has grown much like any other enterprise, with some notable differences. The majority of competitors and aficionados believe that CrossFit maintains its roots in promoting functional movement and overall health, despite becoming a hulking juggernaut of a sport. However, what many fitness programs fail to address is the nutritional component of a person’s overall health. This is where CrossFit has turned the fitness industry on its ear and has helped create space in a wholly unrelated industry. While CrossFit is ultimately a fitness program for those looking to increase their overall strength, mobility, and endurance, it does not turn a blind eye to nutrition, the most important component of overall health. Through CrossFit, one particular area of the food industry has exploded alongside the “sport of fitness.” I’m referring to the Paleo/Primal food industry.
Most — if not all — CrossFit devotees have been exposed to some form of Paleo/Primal way of eating. I hesitate to say “diet,” because most people associate the word diet with restriction and deprivation, which is not part of a Paleo/Primal lifestyle. CrossFit has helped turn focus away from things like weight and outward appearances. It has helped shift focus to the things one’s body is capable of achieving, many of which cannot be accomplished with subpar nutrition. Typically, the nutrition program most often promoted by CrossFit affiliates is some form of Paleo/Primal diet, with an overall focus on whole foods, and ingredients that are not overly processed or artificially manufactured. Like many of the functional movements promoted in CrossFit, the Paleo/Primal lifestyles are about keeping it simple. While many CrossFit elite athletes have admitted they do not eat strict Paleo, the overall focus on simple, clean eating is still an underpinning in many elite athletes’ diets.
Never before have we seen one particular area of the food industry explode alongside a single sport, nor a sport associated with one area of the food industry. In reality, you could say this is kind of a chicken-egg argument. The Paleo and Primal lifestyles were promoted by Paleo/Primal forefathers like Loren Cordain, Robb Wolf, and Mark Sisson well before the CrossFit games were founded. However, the popularity of the Games and CrossFit overall undoubtedly helped increase the visibility and recognition of the Paleo/Primal lifestyles, thereby creating space in the food industry for businesses to flourish. And historically, the food industry does not have much room for small businesses.
In general, the food industry is controlled by about 10 massive conglomerates with fairly little room for newcomers to succeed. Conversely, most Paleo/Primal businesses are owned by small groups of people with ideals and values that do not (and may never) align with those of the large food conglomerates. These companies have helped create a shift in the paradigm of food and business. Namely, businesses can be successful without “selling out” to a large multinational chain, while still keeping a focus on delivering quality, health-conscious foods to consumers.
Through CrossFit, the Paleo/Primal lifestyles have been more readily adopted by members, and through the CrossFit Games, those businesses are provided promotional, sponsorship and vendor opportunities they would not be afforded at more traditional sporting events. This ultimately gives Paleo/Primal business owners the opportunity to capitalize on the Games’ large viewership and continue to grow their brands. The question still remains, will CrossFit do more to help businesses grow, or is this growth merely an unintended consequence of CrossFit’s popularity? CrossFit HQ affords its affiliates a sense of autonomy by allowing them to dictate what supplements, drinks, and food items each will sell. It remains to be seen whether CrossFit HQ will allow this to continue, or use its contractual relationship with the affiliates to require a proprietary line of CrossFit foods and beverage be sold in each affiliate location. While possible, it is unlikely that will happen. In fact, CrossFit would be better off encouraging its affiliates to continue to foster relationships with local businesses, in an effort to cross promote each. CrossFit would get the benefit of having its profile raised as a champion of small, local businesses, and the local Paleo/Primal business owners get access to a larger consumer base.
At the end of the day, while CrossFit may not be for everyone, it is hard to deny that through the popularity of the Games and the increased visibility of CrossFit as a whole, space has been created in a seemingly saturated industry for small businesses to grow. And that can’t be a bad thing.