Sales of protein ingredients are expected to top the $18bn mark by 2010, mainly on account of their association with a healthy lifestyle, according to new research from Global Industry Analysts (GIA).
According to the study, while Europe is the biggest market for protein ingredients, with sales expected to reach $10bn by 2010, the US is by far the fastest growing, with a predicted annual growth rate of 7.6 percent.
One of the principal reasons for this phenomenal rate of expansion, according to the research, is the US government's decision, in 1999, to allow health claims for products containing soy proteins, and the subsequent decade-long wave of health-focused advertising and marketing by soy product manufacturers.
Sales of soyfoods alone are around $4bn a year, according to the Soyfoods Association of North America, and the increasing popularity of soy has also been driven by the aging US population and its increased concerns about health issues such as heart disease.
Soy proteins could also play a role in creating better ingredients for the production of gluten- and wheat-free products - another growth area of the market, with sales of wheat-free breads and cakes growing by almost 120 per cent over the last three years alone to reach $65m, according to market analysts Mintel.
But soy protein is not the only plant-based protein on the market, and health is not the only issue driving popularity.
The GIA study highlights the fact that a wide number of plant protein ingredients have been substituted for animal proteins in myriad areas of food manufacturing, primarily because they are cheaper.
Although animal protein ingredients account for a whopping 69 percent share of the total protein ingredients market, the plant protein ingredients market is the faster growing segment, with a projected annual growth rate of about eight per cent over the next five years as "demand for nutraceuticals and ready meals, and the emergence of markets such as sport nutrition and dietary supplements, propel the demand for cheap sources of proteins such as soy", says GIA.
Elsewhere in the market, milk protein concentrates (MPCs) are rapidly replacing dairy products such as skim milk powder due to their low cost and usage flexibility, the study shows.
MPCs are also used to produce dairy foods containing low carbohydrates and high protein content - another key factor in their growth, although the low-carb fad, which promoted the consumption of low carb, high protein diets as a healthy alternative to traditional foods, appears to have leveled off in recent years.
The report also suggests that increasing awareness among consumers of the potentially adverse health effects of animal proteins is rapidly leading to a transition towards healthier plant and milk proteins.
"The transition is being particularly spurred by rising incidences of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) since 1995, which has forced several protein ingredients producers to revise their product offerings and formulate alternative proteins to meet changing consumer preferences," the report says.
Gelatin, in particular, has been widely replaced by plant-based protein alternatives, as fears about the risk of BSE have grown. In 2006, for example, one of the biggest meat processors in the US, Tyson Foods, saw a massive drop in profits as its meat protein business was devastated by the switch to plant-based alternatives.