Once the preserve of sweaty men pumping iron, protein has emerged from an image overhaul as the ingredient of choice for product developers targeting women keen to battle the bulge and stay strong as they age, according to many market researchers.
A product that women will love
PepsiCo, which is tapping into this trend with its new PLAY (Protein, Liquid, Activity, You-time) initiative, says it is now testing product prototypes with consumers, but will not provide details of the product format (s) or launch date.
Speaking at a briefing on its PLAY initiative this morning, PepsiCo Nutrition Ventures VP Dondeena Bradley PhD said: “We are going to introduce a product that has protein in it, a complete protein and in a product that women will love.
“But it won’t show up on a shelf the way you envision it.”
A spokeswoman told FoodNavigator-USA that details are being kept firmly under wraps, but that formulators wanted to “make sure that we’re being throughtful scientifically as we want it to have validity in terms of the protein quality.”
It won’t be launched under the Pepsi brand, she added.
Many women are not getting enough protein, especially at breakfast and lunch
While many women eat reasonable amounts of protein at their evening meal, making their daily intakes look OK, they would be better off spreading their consumption across the day as our bodies can only process around 20-30g at one sitting and turn it into muscle, say researchers.
However, many women are not getting any protein at breakfast, and hardly any at lunch, said Marianne Smith Edge, MS, RD, LD, FADA, senior vice president, nutrition and food safety at the International Food Information Council (IFIC).
People often tend to think about lack of protein as being an issue for older people, and use terms such as frailty and sarcopenia, she said.
However, many middle-aged women are not getting enough protein- or at least are not getting enough at breakfast and lunch - and still think of it as something that’s most important for athletes and young people, particularly young men, she said.
“They also think that protein is less important as we age, when in fact it can help to prevent many of the issues we see in older adults. Men also think more about protein than women.”
Sloan Trends: Protein is hot hot hot!
Presenting the ‘Top 10 Functional Food Trends’ at IFT’s Wellness 2012 conference in Chicago earlier this year, 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.
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.”
General Mills: Nature Valley protein bars will be as big as Fiber One Brownies…
Speaking on a call with analysts about General Mills’ first quarter results in fiscal 2013 last month, US snacks division president Jon Nudi said the firm’s new Nature Valley protein bars will be as big as Fiber One brownies in their first year.
Fiber One 90 calorie brownies had generated more than $100m in retail sales in their first year, he said, while new Nature Valley protein bars, which contain 10g of protein per bar, “contributed double-digit retail sales growth for the brand in fiscal 2012, and are on track to be as big as Fiber One Brownies in year one retail sales”.
The science: Total protein per day is less important than when you eat it…
Speaking at the IFT show last year, Dr Paddon Jones at the University of Texas medical branch, said many Americans consume more than enough protein, perhaps 90g a day. But they pack nearly all of this into their evening meal, with perhaps 10g (or none at all) at breakfast, 15g at lunch and a whopping 65g at dinner.
But as our bodies can only process around 30g at one sitting and turn it into muscle, there is little point wolfing down 50-60g in one meal, he said.
Meanwhile, eating a very small quantity of protein earlier on in the day isn’t much use, added Dr Donald Layman, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“If you’re eating less than 11g or so at breakfast, you’re not having an effect on protein synthesis: it’s just calories. Grazing all day with small amounts of protein is not great.”
Said Paddon Jones: “We’re not advocating blindly throwing more protein into people’s diets; in lots of cases we’d suggest reducing it, especially at evening meals.”
Ideally, he said, we should aim to consume up to 30g, three times a day. “We need to include more high-quality proteins at breakfast and lunch to maximize potential for muscle growth.
"We should consume moderate amounts three times a day in close proximity to physical activity, so you get the synergistic effects of exercise and protein.”
Talking to consumers about protein
Focus groups conducted by dairy industry-funded body Dairy Management suggested that consumers in the 45-65-year old age bracket responded best to messages connecting protein with mobility and independence, said director of new product insights Cara Kelly.
The most popular statement from a selection designed to encourage consumption of dairy protein was: “Protein from dairy helps to build and maintain the muscles that support your skeletal system and keep you mobile as you age.”