Is protein as hot as everyone is saying it is?
Absolutely. I’d say over the past one to two years the protein trend has gotten really hot, and not only for dairy; there’s also a huge demand for vegan protein.
What is motivating purchasing decisions when it comes to protein, aside from price?
It all depends on the application and the brand, so the amino acid profile is more important to the sports audience, for example, although I can see that changing in the future as the type and quality of protein becomes more important in lots of applications. You hear more people talking about ‘better quality protein’ and you see people replacing things like hydrolyzed collagen with whey proteins, which are seen as being of higher quality.
The allergen issue is also important, and GMO is also a huge influence on purchasing decisions right now.
Which application areas are the hottest for protein right now?
It used to be that protein was focused on the sports market, but now we’re seeing sports nutrition products go more mainstream and targeting fitness and active consumers; the demographic focus has shifted.
Protein is also going into mainstream products from bakery and snacks to dairy and beverages, anti-aging applications [protein to help you maintain lean muscle mass as you age], energy concepts and weight management products.
We’re seeing more companies interested in adding protein to waters as well, which presents challenges in terms of viscosity, flavor and clarity.
How much protein are your customers looking to include in products?
The more sports-oriented audience typically wants to add at least 20g of protein to a bar or beverage, but for other applications, it’s not so important to get that much.
What trends are you seeing in protein powders?
Vegan protein is a strong trend along with clean labels as the demographic for these products has shifted. People want to avoid artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives but the trend is also about cutting down on sugar, using non-GMO ingredients, and rBST-free dairy protein as well.
How is the GMO factor impacting the protein market?
It’s playing into decisions, so we’ve seen some people switch from soy to pea protein, for example, although this is also related to negative PR around soy, concerns about the extraction process, and so on.
What is pea protein like to work with?
It certainly has a color and flavor and it can add a graininess to products once you include it at a certain percentage, so we have been working at ways to improve the flavor and make it easier to formulate with so people are not just getting a commodity type of protein but a functional protein they can use in bars and snacks and ready to drink beverages with a better flavor and texture profile than what you can find on the market today.
You also sell flax and chia proteins… what are they like to work with?
Flax has a nutty flavor that can be a good or a bad thing depending on the application; it can also get a bit ‘slimy’. Chia has gelling properties that can work really well in some applications and people are also interested in highlighting the omega-3 ALA content. However, in both cases you need to use quite a lot to get to a high protein target, and if you want to do that you would need to look at other plant proteins such as soy and pea, which have a higher protein content.
What trends are you seeing in dairy proteins?
One thing we’re seeing is that as part of the clean label drive, people want to remove stabilizing systems - gums, starches and pectins - from dairy applications such as yogurts, and while you can do this with some plant-based proteins such as flax, adding dairy proteins to clean up labels in this way is a more natural fit for dairy products.
Manufacturers are also adding dairy protein to products such as drinkable yogurts just to up the protein content, where again, as they are dairy-based, it’s a natural fit. Dairy proteins also have a cleaner flavor.
How are prices impacting protein choices?
Historically, dairy proteins have been more expensive than plant-based proteins, although prices have been depressed this year in part because demand from China has been lower, but it’s likely that in the longer term they will increase again.