Maintain consumer motivation in the protein food, drink and supplement market

There is something unassailable in protein. While other nutrition superstars can go up and down, protein is unique among macronutrients by “maintaining a positive image even though carbohydrates and fats have suffered negative attacks and negative reactions,” observes Max Maxwell, director. , market intelligence, Glanbia Nutritionals (Chicago).

Yet, while the popularity of protein seems to defy gravity, it doesn’t maintain that buoyancy on its own. After all, the protein business relies on the combined strengths of ingredient suppliers and CPG brands, both of which continue to deliver the potency and appeal of nutrients to loyal consumers.

Widening of the base

Ramon Mommersteeg, Director of Marketing, Performance and Active Nutrition, FrieslandCampina Ingredients (Amersfoort, The Netherlands), sees “several factors at play” to keep protein in the spotlight, including the growing appeal of all things. “Good for you.”

“Consumers are more health conscious than ever,” he says, “and that’s something COVID-19 has accelerated. In response, they are stepping up their diet and fitness programs, he continues, which, in turn, “has led to a boom in the search for nutritional solutions, with protein in the foreground as Consumers recognize that protein plays a role in being strong and physically active, and that these qualities are essential for good health.

There was a time when this recognition was primarily aimed at fitness enthusiasts, the main consumers of protein. But its benefits are now almost officially established in the mainstream.

It’s no wonder, then, that “we see that demand remains strong as we see more and more consumers incorporating protein into their diets,” says Catherine Armstrong, vice president of corporate communications, Comax Flavors ( Melville, NY). “And no, not all of these consumers are athletes looking to build muscle.” They also don’t necessarily follow lifestyle diets like paleo or keto, she adds. “Rather, they use protein powders and other applications: bars; even cookies, as a meal replacement.

The new snack

And as guilt-free snacks.

This year’s FMCG Gurus data shows only 3% of global consumers say not for snacking, notes Mommersteeg, “and of this majority, more than two-thirds say they regularly snack on protein bars.”

What’s more, FMCG Gurus found that more than half of these snackers choose their high-protein products because these options “provide a healthy indulgence,” adds Mommersteeg. “For me, this proves that not only are proteins absolutely always on the menu of consumers; they are even looking for it in new, more practical products adapted to their daily lifestyle.

To make easy

Maxwell totally agrees. “Mainstream brands have made proteins very accessible as they expand into space,” he says. And they’ve done so largely with an emphasis on convenience.

We’re seeing this in the growth of ready-to-drink (RTD) protein shakes over ready-to-mix (RTM) protein shakes, Maxwell points out, as well as the widespread adoption of those aforementioned protein bars “so that consumers don’t you don’t have to change their behavior to get the extra benefits of protein, ”he says.

And although protein bars “fell apart” during the pandemic as consumers squatted at home, “once work and travel return to a new normal,” Maxwell bets, “bars will remain the format. great for on-the-go convenience ”- and for increasingly appealing flavor profiles, fun mini formats and chilled options that literally“ keep the area fresh, ”he adds.

But why stop in bars? Maxwell believes that the migration of proteins into categories such as cookies, crisps, baking mixes, breads, popcorn and extruded breakfast cereals offers brands the opportunity to reach even more consumers. and generate new “explosive growth,” he says.

Attention to detail

However, a new approach to snacking is not all consumers expect from their protein products. “Consumers are also concerned about sourcing, sustainability, climate impact, and products with a story and a mission,” said Maxwell.

Additionally, Armstrong adds, consumers are particularly looking for “clean” protein and products with “simple” ingredient claims. “And the quality of protein is also important,” she says, “with more and more consumers reading labels to make sure that’s what they’re getting.”

The extent to which consumers monitor these nutritional details “depends on who they are and how sophisticated they are,” Maxwell believes. For although the historical base of protein athletes and bodybuilders intensely focuses on the performance benefits and specific protein types – for example, whey protein isolate over concentrates or hydrolyzed whey – the more common new entrants to the category, in many cases, “just want protein,” says Maxwell.

Find a common cause

Yet even though “different protein consumers have different needs and wants,” says Mommersteeg, there is often a considerable overlap between the goals and preferences of different demographics.

“For example,” he says, “for some older people, staying active is a key factor in maintaining muscle strength as they age, which becomes a key factor for protein consumption. But this factor is not much different from why the active consumer also wants to proactively maintain their strength and fitness as they age. Then this The consumer also overlaps with the traditional athletic performance consumer, who is also interested in protein to improve performance. The result: by formulating with one of these consumers in mind, brands are much closer to formulating for others.

Dairy products dominate?

And although plant-based protein is making headlines for its health and sustainability benefits – “and not just in vegans and vegetarians,” Mommersteeg is quick to note – he is convinced that “protein dairy products remain a top choice for high quality protein ”.

Why? On the one hand, dairy products’ comprehensive amino acid profile scores well with active and older consumers, he says. Meanwhile, innovations in dairy ingredients are opening doors for the formulation of proteins in, for example, clear drinks.

“Last year we even launched a concept of clear, pure-tasting RTD water that used whey protein derived from dairy products to create a hydrating drink that promotes muscle recovery after exercise,” says Mommersteeg. “While plant-based dairy products are one of many parts of the protein picture, the dairy ingredients industry is also clearly meeting the challenge of contemporary protein needs. “

All in good taste and texture

Another way for all protein sources to overcome these challenges is to improve their taste and texture games.

As Mommersteeg points out, “For traditional protein users, such as performance athletes, quality nutrition has always been much more important than taste and texture. But as more and more people become interested in protein, taste and texture have also become more and more important. “

And then again, consumers of all types have enhanced protein ingredients to thank. The effect of these ingredients “has been a revolution in innovation and the development of new functional products,” says Mommersteeg, with examples including not only the clean tasting hydrating drink mentioned above, but also protein bars which do not petrify on the shelves.

“High protein bars – with 30% protein and more – are known to harden over time,” explains Mommersteeg, “which makes them unpalatable.” He offers FrieslandCampina’s Excellion Textpro ingredient as not only an “excellent source of protein” for these applications, he says; it’s also a targeted texture solution specially developed to contribute to a smoother mouthfeel and reduce hardening over the shelf life of a bar.

From his perch in a flavoring house, Armstrong has also seen the shift among protein consumers towards the requirement for indulgence as much as nutrition. “So brands are positioning their products as forgiving, yet healthy treats,” she says. The flavor profiles that match the bill “run the gamut from salted caramel pretzel to banana bread,” she says. “We’re also seeing more bite-sized and mini-sized options that are also portable and convenient as snacks. “

Adds Kirsten Karlsson, Marketing Director, Ascent Protein (Denver): “We’re seeing a lot of success and increased sales with limited-time flavors throughout the year to keep things fresh and exciting. Consumers appreciate variety.

And it’s no coincidence that Ascent as a brand of CPG proteins puts these principles of healthy indulgence into practice.

“Better taste and texture have always been key priorities and differentiators for us,” says Karlsson, “because we know how well they inform repeat purchases and drive word-of-mouth marketing. So before any new launches, the company conducts “extensive” consumer research to solicit feedback on taste and texture, she says. “The reality now is that there are a number of high quality proteins on the market, and better taste and texture go a long way in satisfying consumers and keeping them coming back to the brand. “

Protein on the rise

As for what else will make consumers return to protein in general, Maxwell is optimistic about the prospects for individualized nutrition. “It is likely that as we gain the ability to customize products for individual dietary needs,” he predicts, “there will be even more specialization in the proteins that people want.”

And as is the case everywhere, social media is also making its mark on protein. “Interestingly,” says Armstrong, “I see a lot of protein products promoted on social media. More and more influencers are promoting bars, powders and other products through channels like Instagram. will promote special limited time offers and announce when a new flavor is “coming out”.

All of this is attracting even more attention and excitement in an already dynamic category. As Mommersteeg says, “There is absolutely more to come for the protein trend. We are at a turning point in the way consumers think about their health and wellness, and as a result, I think we will see a lot more protein in our day-to-day lives, and in places where maybe. be we hadn’t before.

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Tanya S. Norvell

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