Even though most Americans have little trouble getting enough protein in their diets, this macronutrient continues its climb with a multifaceted appeal that spans sports-minded, young and aging populations alike, according to Innova Market Insights head of research LuAnn Williams, who hosted a webinar this morning ahead of IFT 2014. More than half of American adults say they want more protein in their diets, with a quarter claiming they look for it on the Nutrition Facts panel, according to a recent survey from NPD Group.
Protein spans age groups and health market beyond sports nutrition
“Protein is such a hot topic,” Williams said. “Every day we have something new to talk about with protein. We wanted to look at what’s happening in research because it’s going to drive this category, as it’s a science based topic.”
Indeed, from sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass, which is anticipated to affect 200 million aging consumers by 2050) to obesity (1.4 bn people worldwide are overweight) to diabetes (20% of the US population is diabetic or pre-diabetic), Williams outlined the market opportunity to position protein as a muscle-building and satiating macronutrient for a range of US consumer segments.
“In terms of protein innovation, now is really the time. Consumers are looking for more, even though most of them get enough of it,” she said adding that this is especially true for the growing aging population, which is faced with losing independence due to decreased mobility. “By 2050, there will be 20 million of what we call ‘silver consumers’ in the US, or people 85 and older. People are living longer. That’s a big target group to consider.”
Sports nutrition is still king when it comes to patent filing and innovation, though the market is showing signs of moving more into mainstream nutrition, Williams noted. “Today I bought yogurt in a pouch, a product I’ve been buying since 2001. Just this week, they launched a high-protein version. There’s a lot of interesting new innovation, and a lot of it is based on dairy,” she added.
Unsurprisingly, the US leads the world in protein-related patents, followed by Netherlands and Switzerland.
Nuts, seeds and algae
Protein sources continue to evolve, though whey is still popular, moving from the eighth to third spot in patents from 2012 to 2013, with 308. Notably, the top spot for protein patents in 2013 was held by products containing vegetable (i.e., spinach, potato or tomato) protein, with 350. Not far behind was soy, with 316.
“One interesting area is nuts and seeds,” Williams noted. “There were just a few patents with nut and seed protein in 2010, but that shot up to 204 in 2013. Because patents equal business opportunities, that will be an interesting space to watch!”
Another emerging protein with strong patent activity is algae. Williams said that as algae has moved more into the mainstream, the topics of discussion have shifted as well, from focusing on its health properties—which was the case in 2008—to looking more seriously at mainstream commercial opportunities.
“In algae patents, we’ve seen a shift from functional food to looking at harvesting and moving closer to commercial opportunities. Where before most of the products available were in Asia, like snacks containing algae, now there’s been a shift and we see quite a few sports products with protein. Even some milkshakes and beef-type products with algae protein.”
Sweeteners the focus of beverage arena
The beverage sector has been dominated by sweetener claims in recent years, reflecting consumers' increasingly complicated relationship with sugar. “Sugar has been under attack in a lot of places, so it’s not a big surprise that we’re seeing sweetener claims like ‘no added sugar’ increase in number,” Williams said. Claims like “sweetened with natural fruit” or honey similarly link the sweetness in the product to fruit and reflect the growing propensity to appeal to consumers’ desire for “natural” ingredients.
Reinforcing this is the small but growing claim for 100% natural cane sugar. “Looking at the use of sugar products, we’re seeing a decline in many of them, but cane is one that’s still on the increase," she noted. "One hundred percent natural cane sugar is not too big, but an increasingly important claim.”
The natural trend can also be seen in the high-intensity sweetener space, given the rise and rise of stevia. Indeed, though product launches containing ace-K and aspartame both increased in 2013, the big story was stevia, which was in 3.6% of all soft drink launches last year and is likely to continue increasing, Williams noted.
Australia led the world in sugar reduction claims, with 39% of all soft drinks launched in 2013 containing a sugar reduction claim. The US was high on the list as well, with 25.3%. Asia, on the other hand, continues to lag ,with just 9.3% of 2013 launches containing sugar reduction claims.
Hybrids, texture, and as natural as possible
And while sweeteners are a big focus in soft drink trends, Williams outlined some of the others to watch.
One of Innova’s top 10 trends is hybrid products, which started in the retail bakery segment with the now-infamous Cronut but has since expanded into the beverage category with products like coconut- or dairy alternative-based coffee drinks. Seeds & grains—long established in bakery and snacks, seeds and grains are making headway in juices. “They’re not for every consumer, but the different texture aspect in drinks is an interesting innovation,” Williams observed. Cold-pressed & raw—“again, making the product as ‘natural’ as you can,” she said. Breakfast occasion—a huge potential market, with early contenders including whole grain beverages and protein beverages. Others include coconut water, fiber and fruit & vegetable combinations.
She also hinted at some of the flavor combinations that are making waves in the beverage sector. Notable repeats include never-say-die coconut water, superfruits (with newer entrants such as persimmon) and indulgent flavors like coffee and chocolate.
- Pineapple, mango & jackfruit
- white chocolate and coconut
- strawberry, lemon & mint
- apple & dragonfruit
- green tea & lychee
- salted caramel latte
- cherry & rose
- strawberry & rhubarb
- mango, pineapple & persimmon