Once the preserve of sweaty men pumping iron, protein has emerged from an image overhaul as the ingredient of choice for food developers targeting consumers of all ages and both genders keen to battle the bulge and stay strong, according to one trends expert.
Presenting the ‘Top 10 Functional Food Trends’ at IFT’s Wellness 2012 conference in Chicago last week, Sloan Trends president Dr Elizabeth Sloan said protein had shifted from the niche to the mainstream as consumers – particularly women – thought more about body shape than simply counting calories.
New focus on body fat/shape, not body weight
According to a consumer survey on functional foods conducted by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) last year, 86% of consumers are aware that protein can assist in weight management and providing a feeling of fullness. Meanwhile, IFIC's food and health survey from last year also showed that four out of ten consumers are trying to eat more protein, she noted.
She added: “Protein is hot hot hot and there is no sign this trend is going to go away for the next 10 years. It’s about body composition, sports, satiety and maintaining muscle mass as you get older."
As for weight management, women in particular are increasingly thinking about “body fat, not weight”, said Dr Sloan.
“It’s how flabby you are, your muscle tone. Body fat is crossing over from sports to the mainstream.”
And as for what type of protein was gaining momentum, plant-based protein was where a lot of the action would probably be in the next few years, she said, a trend particularly evident at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim last month .
More hot trends: Bioavailability, gourmet nutrition, healthy food swaps
And the other hot functional food trends for 2012?
Real Food Nutrition: “It’s amazing, it’s on fire. Inherent nutrition, whole food supplements, consumers want to get their health benefits naturally, so foods that are ‘naturally rich in…”
Mini-Managers: “Consumers are still buying the same staples, but they are swapping for a healthier version of something they already buy – so buying brown rice instead of white rice, whole grain bread instead of white bread.”
Bioavailability: “Consumers have pervasive doubts about the bioavailability of even the highest quality supplements. 55% want more proof of the bioavailability of nutrients in fortified foods. It’s time to talk about this.”
Gourmet Nutrition: “Fresh, real, seasonal and natural. Savoring food.”
The New Risks: “79m Americans are pre-diabetic. That’s huge. This is a huge untapped opportunity…” Plus, healthy circulation: “This is a gigantic issue, we just haven’t paid attention to it.”
First Aid (relief from sore throat, constipation, sleeplessness): Look out for more relaxation and sleep aids – for staying asleep as well as falling asleep. Self-treatment for constipation etc.
Kids, Dads and Grannies: “Remember, a third of all households in the US have a man as the primary shopper.”
Liquidification: More healthy, natural and convenience beverages.
Food in 2010: The consumer as CEO
As to where consumers will be in 2020, Linda Eatherton, director of the Ketchum Global Food & Nutrition Practice, predicted that consumers will only become more demanding.
She added: “Brands are about trust. Consumers want food companies to behave more like NGOs. They want you to be activists and advocates for social change.”
Beyond tasting good, food must have a measurable impact on a community and society, she added. “Consumers will demand financial and measurable goals to be reported publicly each year.”
A new Food Value Index could give consumers a complete picture of the value of a food based on a particular algorithm, taking into account the practices of the company as well as the quality of the food, she added.
What consumers say…. And what they actually do
Chris Wyse, vice president of communications for PepsiCo, agreed that major food brands had to increase transparency and listen to consumers.
However, as PepsiCo had learned from sodium reduction efforts and the first - noisy - iteration of its biodegradable Sun Chips bag (which was not a hit with consumers), what consumers say they want and what they actually buy are not necessarily the same thing, he observed.
“Sometimes you take sodium reduction directly to the consumer and they reject it. On Sun Chips, we gave consumers something they said they wanted, but when it came to it, they didn’t.”
More from Wellness 2012:
Click here to read what the Wellness 2012 consumer panel made of pre- and probiotics.
Click here to read what one leading academic said about antioxidants.
Click here to read what one attorney said about health claims.