Consumers go nuts for protein-packed product innovation

By Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe

- Last updated on GMT

Image: One
Image: One

Related tags Chocolate Protein Functional food High protein Reese's peanut butter cups Hershey

With Reese’s collaborating with One to launch a high protein iteration of the iconic peanut butter cup, should other manufacturers be looking at this functional ingredient too?

Protein is packing its way into sweet treats​. So far, in 2024, we’ve seen the launch of Warrior’s high-protein range of chocolate-flavoured crunch bars, Oobli’s sweet protein chocolate bars and Lukar Chocolate’s pea-protein-based chocolate alternative.

“Protein led marketing isn’t new, but it’s certainly a share of the market that has grown exponentially in recent years,” confirms Kate Williams, founder of KW Marketing.

“The protein category has seen strong growth over the last several years, driven in part by consistently improving upon protein snacking experiences,” says Michael Reese, Director of Marketing at One/Fulfil.

The reason for protein’s popularity may in part be due to better processing options. Brands have enhanced their existing formulas for better taste and texture and innovate with flavour, texture and form. “As those experiences have improved, there has been an increase in confectionery flavours, forms and overall eating experiences within the protein snacking space,” adds Reese.

The One x Reese’s collab

To that end, Protein brand One has teamed up with Reese's to bring the Hershey brand’s peanut butter flavour to its protein bars. “Consumers are seeking variety in their protein snacks, which is why we've seen such a strong proliferation in flavours and forms in the category,” says Reese. “Peanut butter is one of the top flavours in the protein category.”

The protein brand also partnered with another iconic Hershey brand to create its Hershey's Cookies 'n' Creme flavour-inspired protein bar that mimics the brand’s recognisable confectionery products.

Better-for-you extends to protein

“There is still a belief by consumers that they don't eat enough protein,” says Vhari Russell, Founder of The Food Marketing Experts. Consumers wanting to add more protein into their diets will be interested in packaging, labels and campaigns that reference high-protein contents. “So adding protein to a chocolate bar will be seen as a benefit to many consumers,” adds Russell.

Protein is often linked to health, appealing to consumers who are conscious of diet and nutrition. Yet, in confectionery it’s often a hard sell to make this connection. “It is hard to have health benefits on a chocolate bar, as the sugar content will be higher than most other elements,” Russell says.

Hershey’s launched its better-for-you​ strategy, snacking portfolio and sugar-free platform in 2021. Geared to health-conscious consumers, the launch came after the company’s research found that most consumers say living a healthy lifestyle is important (71%) and most believe eating healthily is an important factor in overall health (78%).

In addition, its research also found that most consumers are trying to lower their sugar intake (70%) and are looking to add protein into their diet (60%).

“Confectionery that leads with its nutrition messaging, including if it has a high protein content, fits the needs of these consumers perfectly,” adds Williams. Transparency around ingredients is the key element here, with existing protein bar brands Grenade and Barebells among those that follow this approach. “Those that do it well make it explicit and its links to health, fitness and wellbeing,” adds Williams.

Curious confectioners or protein purchasers?

Where confectionery’s concerned, it’s interesting to consider whether brands are getting sales because consumers are curious about taste innovation, or whether brands are tapping into audiences that wouldn’t normally buy confectionery. “I think it is an element of both,” says Russell.

“I think there will always be consumers that like innovative and unique confectionery, but equally there are the health conscious consumers that will appreciate the tailored message around protein, nutrition and diet,” says Williams. “It plays into their goals of wanting to be healthy whilst not missing out on a treat or trying to ignore chocolate cravings,” Williams adds. “NPD in the protein space generates new listings, activity instore, sampling and offers a showcase to get new customers,” adds Russell.

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