Protein beverages can have mass market appeal if firms get the formulation right, keep calories down and refocus marketing efforts on the people that are actually drinking their products, rather than the people they think are drinking them, according to one recent market entrant.
Mark Gottsacker is president of Wisconsin-based Global Bottling Partners, a wholly owned subsidiary of dairy ingredients giant Galloway set up to launch the firm’s first consumer product, Fitness Edge.
A ready-to-drink (RTD) beverage containing whey protein isolate, electrolytes, skim milk and 10% fruit juice, Fitness Edge has 170 calories per 355 ml bottle and 1.5g of fat.
From sports drink for young men to protein smoothie for all
The drink, which debuted at a small number of 7-11 convenience stores in Colorado last summer, was originally a single-serve product targeted at 18-25-year-old males with a focus on muscle recovery, said Gottsacker.
And it was not a great success, he admits. “In the c-store market, I think the consumer often knows what drink he’s going to buy before he’s even walked into the store.”
But what also became apparent was that while Fitness Edge was being targeted at young men, it was actually being consumed by a far wider demographic: people of both sexes and all ages keen to stay lean and healthy, plus older people worried about muscle wastage, cancer patients, and women with morning sickness who found it was the only thing they could keep down, he said.
“A grocery chain in Wisconsin started stocking it in its nutritional section and it just took off, which made us realize this was where we needed to target. The nutritional section of many grocery stores is also evolving and moving away from the pharmacy and more towards the center of the store. People aren’t going there because they have a problem that needs fixing, they just want to stay healthy.
Lower in calories and fat
He added: “We’ve also changed our approach and we’re calling it a protein smoothie and selling it in four-packs specifically for the nutritional section of grocery stores with a colored wrap that reflects the color of the flavor [key lime, tropical orange and wild berry].
“We are also looking at the medical nutrition market much more seriously now.”
The fat and calorie content of Fitness Edge was considerably lower than that of juice-based refrigerated protein drinks such as Odwalla Protein Monster or Naked Juice Protein Zone, and slightly lower than shelf-stable milk-shake style sports recovery drinks such as Muscle Milk, Mix 1 or EAS Myoplex, he said.
“If you do a workout and then have a drink with 350 calories in it, what’s the point? Having a pH of 3.6 also means we can hot fill the product rather than using aseptic packaging and the protein is really well dispersed and does not settle at the bottom of the bottle.
"But the main feedback we’re getting is that it is really easy-to-drink. It tastes great.”
From B2B to B2C. It was so good we wanted to launch it ourselves
Galloway had originally come up with the formulation to show beverage manufacturing customers that it was possible to produce something lighter and fresher tasting than many of the “chalky” textured protein drinks on the market, said Gottsacker.
“We are a b2b company, but we develop [prototype] finished products all the time to show customers. When we came up with this, we thought it was so good we wanted to launch it ourselves. We knew we would make mistakes but we wanted to try.”
Best tasting protein beverage
The firm, which recently picked up the Gold Medal at the World Dairy Expo in the best tasting protein beverage category for Fitness Edge, now has an agreement with leading brokerage firm Acosta Sales, which recently helped secure a distribution agreement with Supervalu.
This means the brand now has a national presence in stores owned by C&K Market in Oregon to Jewel Osco in Chicago, he said.
“A few years ago, protein drinks were things body builders and athletes mixed up from powder in big tubs, but now the market is becoming much more mainstream.”
If everything went to plan, the firm was on course to break even by next July, he said.