As consumers continue to seek new ways to include protein in their diets, there is a marked rise in the consumption of alternative protein sources. Busy lives and an increasing range of food options are evolving our eating habits as we look for foods that suit different eating occasions and a range of lifestyle choices. This article explores the evolution of protein and why its popularity continues to soar in today’s changing marketplace.
The appeal of vegetarian and vegan foods is fast moving to mainstream. These food types are no longer the province of the small group of people who choose to avoid eating meat for ethical reasons, but now appeal to a large consumer base who actively seek out the halo of healthy and clean foods. People are starting to make the switch to these perceived healthier foods as part of their lifestyle choice.
Sustainability to the Fore
The rise in popularity of plant-based proteins has been boosted by their image as a clean and sustainable food source. Ensuring sustainability is all about looking at the supply chain as a whole and taking into account the entire carbon footprint throughout the production process. Broadly, growing plants as food is considered a more sustainable use of the earth’s resources than using plants as animal feed. The challenge for manufacturers entering the plant protein market is to unlock the protein source to extract maximum value while working to also deliver value from the co-stream of the natural starches and fibers inherent in the plants.
Functionality and Fortification
The new wave of vegetarian and vegan foods are positioned as inclusive rather than exclusive—it’s all about creating great tasting foods that include the protein options that people want to eat, rather than developing foods that set out to exclude certain elements, such as meat, from the diet. Key to success is matching functionality with fortification. For example, research and development teams can help product developers achieve a target level of protein in application and, more importantly, advise which particular protein or protein combination to choose for different systems. Proteins are highly functional ingredients and cannot be viewed as a one-size-fits-all solution.
A key barrier to consumer acceptance of any new product introduction lies in its flavor. The flavor of plant-based protein can present a challenge, depending on the application and the level of protein fortification required. A pea protein that works well in a beverage system may present flavor challenges in a chocolate or confectionery system, for example.
The widespread acceptance that better nutrition is delivered through food than through dietary supplementation continues to lead the rise of the healthy snacking industry—we still want nutritional convenience and are looking to our daily diet to deliver. This concept of holistic nutrition is well suited to the powerful combination of dairy- and plant-based proteins. Everyday foods that deliver vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and protein in a convenient, clean-label package offer strong consumer appeal.
Combining dairy with plant proteins can create the perfect protein. The clean appeal of plants and the rich amino acid profile of dairy protein offers a holistic protein source whose synergistic effects deliver higher nutritional and functional value in the total formulation.
With high-protein products now trending now in every food category, healthy snacks and beverages are dominating as consumers seek protein’s satiety and nutritional effects throughout the day. The consumer choice of protein foods as part of an active lifestyle has never been more prevalent.