If manufacturers can present them in a more appealing way, there is a huge untapped market in the US for higher protein products appealing to baby boomers looking to stay active, according to consumer research from dairy giant Fonterra Nutrition.
While protein plays an important role in weight management, connecting it to a healthy active lifestyle (maintaining lean muscle mass) is an equally important message for boomers, 58% of whom believe the ability to stay active has a higher impact on their health than their weight, says Fonterra.
Meanwhile, declines in stamina, physical strength and energy levels were cited as the top three changes noticed in their health over the past five years.
The insights emerged following interviews with 600 US consumers aged 50-75 as part of research into healthy ageing spanning six countries and almost 4,000 shoppers.
Staying active as you age more important than weight management
Global marketing communications manager Susan Horn told FoodNavigator-USA: “Protein already holds high interest for the both the primary and mass audiences, and in the USA, there is a fantastic opportunity for manufacturers to educate consumers on the role protein - particularly dairy protein - can play in helping them achieve their goal of staying active as they age.”
The data - which will be presented later this month at the 2nd international Healthy Ageing Conference in Frankfurt - echoes the findings of focus groups conducted by Dairy Management suggesting that US consumers aged 45-65 respond well to messages connecting protein with mobility.
It also follows news that leading brands increasingly see protein as a hot trend, notably PepsiCo, which is developing a protein-based product designed to appeal to women , and General Mills, which says its new Nature Valley protein bars will be as big as Fiber One brownies in their first year.
The issue is not so much that Americans are not getting enough protein overall, said Horn, but that they pack much more protein than they can turn into muscle at their evening meal, but do not get enough at breakfast and lunch.
US is ideal test market for products targeting this sector
Fonterra has identified three consumer segments representing more than 33m US shoppers aged 50-75 it believes are particularly open to new products helping them keep active: ‘Active seekers’, ‘health seekers’ and ‘open-minded moderates’, said Horn.
“The USA over indexes in active seekers. We see them as the primary adopters of nutritional solutions that will help ageing consumers to stay active and vital for longer.
“As the USA has such high proportions of these consumers, it would be the ideal test market for products targeting this sector.”
Active seekers exert high levels of control over their diet
Active seekers - shoppers who are willing to change their lifestyle - are Fonterra’s primary target, representing 16% of the USA landscape, and over indexing compared with a global audience, said Horn.
In general, active seekers exert high levels of control over their diet; are happy to sacrifice taste and indulgence for nutrition; value a well-balanced diet; place high emphasis on the importance of fresh food; actively try new products and regularly buy organic, sustainable and natural products; are actively looking for products higher in protein (59% in the US); and are most likely to study food labels.
Health seekers are willing to make some sacrifices, but want treats
Health seekers, who are the top-end mass audience, represent 22% of the USA landscape, said Horn.
“They are early followers, willing to make some sacrifices for health benefits, as long as it leaves room for taste and occasional treats.
“Over half are open to trying new things to stay healthy, and they strongly believe diet can affect mobility, muscle strength and their ability to stay active. They aim to eat well-balanced meals using fresh food, but taste is very important to them.
“They regularly buy new products and in the USA 51% are actively looking for products higher in protein. The key is to get the messaging right. We don't want to talk about sarcopenia, this is about maintenance and staying active and vital for longer."
Open minded moderates lack resolve to maintain health regimes and are less likely to try new things
Finally, open-minded moderates are the mainstream mass audience, representing 20% of the USA landscape, said Horn. “They are followers, fairly health conscious, but lack the resolve to maintain health regimes.
“In the USA, 60% are moderately prepared to change their lifestyle to prevent health problems, as long as it’s made easy for them; they think it’s important to prepare fresh food, and 29% are actively looking for products higher in protein.
“They are pragmatic shoppers with low levels of enthusiasm for shopping or trying new things.”
We’re no longer dealing with people who are ready to wind down and watch the world go by
Brian Watson, general manager of Fonterra’s mobility nutrition platform, said boomers have different expectations to their parents: “It’s clear that we’re no longer dealing with people who are ready to wind down and watch the world go by.
“We are also seeing subtle differences between markets in consumer profiles and needs. In the USA the ability to stay active has the biggest impact on perceived health, but in Japan bone health is perceived to have a greater influence.”
The US is one of the largest and most polarised markets for ageing nutrition
But he added: “There are also differing levels in preparedness to change, which could be crucial for manufacturers looking to establish test markets for new products.
“The US is one of the largest and most polarised markets for ageing nutrition. At one end of the spectrum we have a large number of ‘unwavering indulgers’ who know they have health issues, but chose to ignore them.”