Protein continues to be one of the hottest ingredients trending in the food and beverage sector. It is such a powerful ingredient that the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) in 2014 named protein as one of the functional food trends that will likely shape the industry this year. What’s more, Packaged Facts’ report, “Functional Foods: Key Trends & Developments in Ingredients," proclaiming protein as a key ingredient to watch in 2015.
In terms of revenue, the global protein market is anticipated to reach $24.5 billion in 2015, according to a 2011 report from Pathfinder Research Inc. But why is protein trending? Its powerful position in the food and beverage landscape can be attributed to a variety of reasons, a primary one being increased consumer knowledge about the health benefits of consuming protein.
Product developers have a host of plant- and animal-based proteins to choose from, which opens the door to increased product development in the functional foods and beverages category. However, a report from Mintel found that within the protein market, plant-derived proteins are leading growth.
And according to IFT, millennial vegetarians and vegans are forcing packaged food companies to respond to the growing demand for vegetarian food offerings. Many consumers are making the switch due to heath, ethical, and environmental concerns. But another reason is that the food industry’s technological developments have made an impact by offering a greater variety of prepared vegetarian options in the form of shelf-stable, refrigerated, and frozen products. In the past, vegetarian consumers have been limited to soy and wheat for protein in most meat-free products, but with rising allergy-free trends a greater variety of plant-based protein sources such as pulses, ancient grains nuts, and seeds are being used in products.
Trends in vegetarian product labels are still mostly centered on “vegan" and “no animal ingredients." In recent years though allergen positioning has gained a greater foothold, and some manufacturers are steering away the vegan label in order to appeal to a broader audience. There is also a notable rise in products with ingredients such as pea protein, rice protein, almond, coconut, and quinoa as food companies reach out to those who avoid gluten and soy or follow paleo diet regimens.
Globally inspired flavors are also becoming more of the norm as they appeal not just to vegans and vegetarians but also to flexitarians. Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean are three “hot" ethnic flavors on the rise. In addition, foods from the Philippines, Burma and other parts of Asia are also well represented.