‘The water is fine’: Plant protein moves into mainstream

By Asia Sherman

- Last updated on GMT

© Julianna_Nazarevska / Getty Images
© Julianna_Nazarevska / Getty Images

Related tags MycoTechnology mycelium plant-based protein Consumer attitudes

Plant protein powder has transitioned from a niche market product for vegans and athletes to a broader base of wellness-minded consumers, according to a survey commissioned by mushroom mycelial fermentation company MycoTechnology.

The Plant-based Protein Powder Consumer Insights Report​ produced by research firm Brightfield Group analyzed information gathered from a subset of 725 plant protein powder users during Q1 2023, generating insights that span demographics, product adoption, need states and purchase and benefit drivers.

“These findings demonstrate that plant protein is smashing apart outdated stereotypes and is now earning strong support among mainstream consumers,” said Jonas Feliciano, marketing director at MycoTechnology. “The fact that so many blend their plant protein powder with milk is a strong sign that non-vegans consider plant protein to be a conventional product and a key part of a healthy diet.”

MycoTechnology, based in Aurora, CO, is positioning its FermentIQ PTP pea and rice protein blend fermented by shiitake mycelia as an easily digestible, high-quality, next-generation complete protein with an ideal sensory and clean label profile that combines the power of plants with the magic of mycelia.

The new plant-protein powder consumers

The Brightfield Group survey found that 38% of respondents who reported purchasing only plant-based protein powder said they used dairy milk as mixer, and just 17% of plant protein users identified as vegan.

“This means that for many, plant-based protein powders are less about not consuming animal products but more about getting protein from what they consider to be more healthy origins,” said Meg Bluth, senior director of insights at Brightfield Group.

Protein has traditionally been adopted as fuel to power workouts, but fewer than half of respondents identified as athletes. Over three quarters however, reported exercising at least three times a week, predominantly to support mental health.

The survey also breaks down plant protein powder users into “early adopter” (34%) and “early majority” (31%) segments. While consumers in the latter are focused on healthy living, Bluth explained that this group waits until a product is tried-and-true before adopting it.

“They don’t waste money trying things but wait for others to tell them the water is fine before they jump in,” she said. “This indicates that plant-based proteins are mainstream now, no longer niche, used only with those experimenting in the market.” 

She added that the plant-based protein powder market is already fairly mature and that meaningful innovation will be necessary to reinvigorate the early adopters and “add fire to the category”.

Higher quality protein matters

Nearly all plant-based protein powder consumers said that they are more likely to purchase a higher quality and more complete protein. Beyond nutritional factors, 91% of respondents also said they prefer products that promise better taste, which MycoTechnology addresses with its proprietary process that deodorizes and de-flavors the plant proteins.

“Most notably, all but a few of the respondents to our survey said that they considered protein quality and flavor to be of the utmost importance,” Feliciano said. “The successful plant proteins of the future will be those which are able to tap into the needs and preferences of these highly discerning consumers.”

According to Brightfield Group’s findings, the plant-based protein powder category attracts a young, affluent consumer base of men and women who prefer cleaner eating, with a higher number of male users. 

“This group is also more likely to be using functional ingredients, like mushrooms and adaptogens, so we know they're open to new and alternative ways to get the types of sustenance and nutrition they're looking for,” said Bethany Gomez, managing director at Brightfield Group. “Brands that strive to offer high quality products, using cutting edge ingredients, will find a group of users ready and willing to dig in."

MycoTechnology will be on hand to discuss these insights, its new honey truffle natural sweetener and other plant-protein developments at the upcoming SupplySide West trade show at booth #3519 on Oct. 25-26.

With additional reporting by Olivia Haslam.

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