Consumers are becoming more educated about the essential role protein plays in overall health and wellness, which means the market for protein-enhanced foods and beverages is widening beyond the sports-nutrition and weight-management categories. Product designers must consider new nutritional demands from increasingly health-conscious consumers, and those changing preferences can open the door to more innovation in all sectors of the food and beverage industry.
Protein content has been one of the key areas of activity in new product development in the food and drinks industry over the past couple of years. Nearly 4 percent of global launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in the 12 months to the end of June 2015 used a “high-in" or “source-of protein" positioning, rising to nearly 8 percent in the dairy sector and 14 percent in the yogurt category.
“Dairy products have always had an inherently healthy image and a perception of high-protein levels," said Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation, Innova Market Insights, “so it is a sector that has been able to adapt relatively rapidly to this rising interest in protein, in some cases by simply changing its labeling and/or positioning."
The United States has led this rising interest in protein content, both overall and specifically in the dairy sector. Over 17 percent of U.S. dairy launches were positioned on their protein content in the 12 months to the end of June 2015, which is well over twice the global average. Yogurt had the highest penetration, with over one-third of launches marketed on a protein platform, followed by milk drinks with just under a quarter. While one-third of yogurt launches using a protein positioning is fairly impressive, it still trails behind U.S. Greek and Greek-style launches, which accounted for nearly 57 percent of total introductions, indicating that by no means all Greek yogurts are using a high-protein positioning yet.
In addition to Greek-style yogurts, other traditionally high-protein fermented dairy products are being introduced onto the market, led by the Icelandic fermented dairy product skyr. Skyr is also moving from its home in Iceland to a number of European markets. Perhaps not surprisingly this started in Scandinavia, but there were launches by Arla Foods in countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands in the spring of 2015.
In the milk drinks market, performance was initially a key focus for protein beverages, but we are now seeing both relatively specialist performance products and more mainstream lines. In the United States, introductions have included an organic version of Cytosport’s market-leading Muscle Milk protein beverage, Morning Protein Smoothies from Sprout Foods, Plus Protein Dairy Beverages from retailer Safeway and TruMoo Protein Milks from Dean Foods.
In Europe, recent launches include Lactel’s Sporteus protein-enriched milk drinks in France, positioned as sports beverages; the leading US protein shake Muscle Milk Protein in Germany; and Austrian dairy company Nöm’s extension of its fasten flavored milk range with a fasten Protein Drink option.
“High-protein foods are one of the most sought-after nutritional choices of the moment," according to Williams “and the dairy sector appears to be extremely well placed to benefit. Yogurts and milk drinks are the current leaders in terms of activity, but there may also be opportunities in other products such as cheese, particularly soft and fresh products."
Protein content also has been hot ingredient to help boost the meat snacks market, where many products are naturally high in protein and have made increasing use of high-in-protein or source-of-protein claims. What’s more, nearly 15 percent of global meat snacks launches in the 52 weeks to the end of April 2015 used protein claims, skyrocketing to more than 50 percent in the United States.
Some proteins are more effective for a given purpose than others. For example, animal-based proteins, such as whey, casein, beef and fish help build muscle, manage weight and increase heart health, while plant-based proteins also have research backing their benefits in sports nutrition and metabolic function. Natural Products INSIDER recently compared the science behind stand-by proteins such as whey and soy, in addition to up-and-coming sources, in its “Examining Popular Forms of Protein" Digital Issue.