Health professionals and nutritionists generally agree that the typical Western diet includes enough protein to ensure proper growth, immune, heart and respiratory function. The current upsurge of interest in protein thus goes beyond basic nutrition to its role in a better quality of life—from weight management and athletic recovery to maintaining strength and muscle tone for good health in later life.
While protein can play a role in weight management (through satiety), many consumers are shaky in their understanding of the relationship between protein, calories, and weight gain.
Consumers want more protein, even though they don’t know how much they’re supposed to get
The International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) Food & Health Survey for 2013 shows that only 30% of US adult consumers realize that, in terms of total or (especially) excess calorie intake, all sources of calories influence weight gain equally, leaving a notable chunk of the population believing that calories from sugars (21%), carbohydrates (19%), or fats (16%) are most likely to cause weight gain, compared with only 1% naming calories from protein as the likely culprit.
Even despite their confusion, consumers’ positive nutrition association with protein translates to increased momentum for packaged foods and beverages that cue “protein.” Indeed, Packaged Facts survey data show that 62% of US adults make a point of consuming plenty of protein, though 71% are unable to identify the recommended daily amount of protein, as the NPD Group found in April.
Paleo, Primal and Atkins diets have also raised the profile of protein-crazed approaches to eating, and in response, food manufacturers continue to re-brand and roll out new products that prominently feature protein or display protein content more clearly on packaging.
Yogurt for the manly man!
High-protein, probiotic drinkable yogurt has emerged as a leading dairy source of protein in the wake of the Greek yogurt revolution, with sales of yogurt estimated to reach $8.5bn in 2015. (Packaged Facts estimates that Greek yogurt controlled nearly 40% of the market in 2013 and is likely to approach the 50% mark this year). Niche segments such as drinkable yogurt and kefir and yogurt marketed to men are coming into their own as well as consumer interest in nutrition and digestive health continues to climb.
Men, traditionally the weak link in yogurt consumption (42% of them eat it, compared to 67% of women), present an under-exploited opportunity for yogurt brands to show that yogurt is also a “man’s food”, Packaged Facts says.
“There’s a new tune to the marketing and advertising of food products in the “arena” of consumer sports,” wrote report author and research director David Sprinkle. “The 2014 Super Bowl marked a turning point in active lifestyle brands entering the biggest stage in male sports. It was previously relegated to oversized or hunky men downing hefty amounts of beer, cheering insanely for their sports, or idolizing bombshell female TV-ad actresses.”
Powerful Yogurt, launched in 2012, is marketed as “Greek yogurt that’s high-protein, all-natural and great tasting, in a man-sized package”. The line comes in (manlier sized) 8-ounce servings with between 21 and 25 grams of protein per serving. Its slick marketing approach and focus on men is exemplified through ads that depict slim, in-shape men and the product’s association with active lifestyles through marketing materials on its website and on social media. Other brands to watch include Danone, which launched its Men yogurt brand in Bulgaria last year, and New Zealand-based Mammoth Supply Co., which launched man-targeted yogurt, ice cream and dips.
Not all probiotic products offer a high amount of protein, presenting an untapped market opportunity
Probiotic yogurt drinks also show strong potential, because of their alignment with health and wellness, in addition to their portability. The yogurt and kefir market reached $1.96bn in sales last year, a 20% increase in two years, according to the Specialty Food Association. And yet, not all probiotic yogurt and yogurt-like drinks offer a high amount of protein (at least 5 grams per 8-oz serving), making this an area worth exploring and exploiting, Packaged Facts says.
Kefir, a fermented dairy drink that contains probiotic cultures, is showing increasing potential in kid-friendly probiotic products and frozen offerings (as frozen kefir maintains the healthfulness of probiotic strains), with manufacturers like Lifeway Foods charting 16% sales growth in Q1 2014 driven by product innovation that included kid-friendly probiotic drinks, ProBugs Organic Kefir and its flagship Lifeway Kefir brand. Other kefir brands include Wallaby Organic, Greek Gods and Redwood Hill Farms.
As frozen probiotic yogurt products become more commonplace, individual portion sizes in probiotic pops may gain favor as protein on-the-go.
In addition to the portability appeal of probiotic drinks, manufacturers are capitalizing on consumers’ growing awareness of the importance of gut health in overall nutrition. Supplementing the growing number of industry-sponsored and independent studies focusing on the health benefits of probiotic yogurt drinks, the medical community is taking a deeper dive into the connection of probiotic-rich diets and general health and the role of a healthy microbiome in warding off disease. Still, it’s key for manufacturers to stick to substantiated messaging to prevent consumer confusion.
Nuts: the darling of naturally protein-dense snacking
Another promising growth area for protein-based packaged food and beverages include almonds and nut butters—which have gotten a boost from renewed attention on their health benefits (to compound their longstanding appeal as a protein-packed, healthful snack). The healthy positioning of almonds and the natural protein boost they give makes them an ideal source of protein for consumers.
Nut butters, driven by convenience and portability, are ideal as more indulgent protein sources. The $3.9 bn nut and sweet spread category appears poised for growth, driven by innovative brand extensions (Jif’s hazelnut spread and Whips creamy peanut butter spreads, and Skippy’s planned move into alternate butters) as well as disruptive startup brands making a splash (Boulder, CO-based Justin’s, with its 80-calorie, natural and organic peanut butter squeeze packs; and Peanut Butter & Co.’s foray into spicy and savory peanut butter lines, which extend peanut butter’s versatility into the sauce realm).
Eco-eating paves the way for humane, meatless innovation
Moreover, eco-eating continues to make headway. Indeed, Packaged Facts found that 41% of consumers say they seek out foods from animals raised humanely, while 28% are seeking out vegetarian sources of protein. Such shifting preferences have provided a boon to meatless brand standbys like Quorn, Gardein and Morningstar Farms, which are increasingly positioning their products for the “flextarian” consumer.
But they also act as veritable incubators for innovators like Hampton Creek Foods, whose plant egg business was built on founder Josh Tetrick’s belief that industrialized egg production is cruel. The branded product, Beyond Eggs, is also marketed as an affordable and functionally equivalent replacement for eggs. Similarly, neat foods aims to revolutionize the meat-substitute category (aiming for broader consumer market appeal) with its protein-packed (albeit soy-free) blend of garbanzo beans, pecans, gluten-free whole grain oats and corn meal.
In addition, high-protein snack bars, which are increasingly blurring the lines between snack and meal replacements, are even stealing share from the nutritional supplements category, as more consumers look to food as a form of preventive medicine.