Consumer demand for all manner of protein-rich foods and beverages continues to grow, to the point where protein has become a buzz word in the food industry.
For example, in a national consumer survey conducted in April and May, Packaged Facts found 23% of American adults strongly agreeing and 29% agreeing somewhat with the statement: "I make a point of getting plenty of protein."
Similarly, in last year's Food & Health Survey by The International Information Council Foundation (IFIC), 57% of U.S. adults said that they're consciously trying to consume a given amount or a high amount of protein.
Yet, by and large, consumers tend to have an incomplete or even inaccurate understanding of protein's true dietary roles and benefits, according to a new Culinary Trend Tracking Series report from Packaged Facts, "Proteins: Classic, Alternative and Exotic Sources."
"Consumers are looking to protein but have difficulty articulating why," says Melissa Abbott, culinary insights director for The Hartman Group and one expert interviewed for the report. "They look at it for controlling blood sugar, which is really code for satiety and its connection to weight management. Protein is also seen as a way to ward against Type II diabetes." But consumers "have no sense of how much protein is the right amount — the only group that knows that is professional athletes," she adds. "Overall, it is much more instinctive for them based on how they feel after they eat a particular high protein meal, instead of one high in carbohydrates."
In fact, only 30% of U.S. adults understand that excessive calories from any source — protein as well as sugars, carbs or fats — contribute equally to weight gain, the IFIC survey found.
Be that as it may, lifestyle and demographic shifts are contributing to heightened interest in protein-rich foods and beverages.
While protein has been "the darling of lean diets" for more than two decades now, the current popularity of the Paleo, Primal and Atkins diets points to consumers viewing protein as tying into their "quest for health and wellness food and beverages to address specific health concerns," observes David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts and publisher of the Culinary Trend Tracking Series. "This presents a unique opportunity for food manufacturers, retailers and restaurants.”
Food manufacturers are launching a growing number of products that are both higher in protein content and deliver high flavor appeal, and repackaging or rebranding existing products to spotlight their protein content.
Emerging and growing categories of opportunity in the expanding protein-rich landscape
highlighted in the report include:
*"Macho" and high-protein drinkable yogurts. Yogurt as a whole continues to show strong growth (Packaged Facts projects that the U.S. yogurt market will total $9.3 billion by 2017), and one of the newer opportunities lies in products designed for and marketed to male consumers who are starting to accept Greek yogurt, but want more substantial or hearty portions. Drinkable yogurt and kefir drinks that combine digestive health benefits with added protein content, targeted to men, are starting to carve out a share of the category.
*"Eggless egg" products. This still-emerging product category is part of the broader trend toward alternatives to chicken and meat proteins, including already fairly well-established vegetarian "analogs" for chicken. Meat alternatives are gaining ground as delicious foods in their own right, not just as more nutritionally correct substitutes, point out the researchers.
*Exotic meats. As consumers seek "back-to-roots" proteins, charcuterie has taken off, and the salumi craft (Italian cured meats of many varieties) is "holy ground" within foodie culture, notes the report. The latest variation, gaining popularity in fine dining restaurants, is wild boar.
*Almonds and nut butters. Nuts have long been favorite "cravable" protein sources, and new nutritional perspectives have positioned nuts, and especially almonds, high on the "good-for-you" list. With Americans snacking at unprecedented rates, almonds and nut butters — which offer the added advantages of convenience and portability — are benefiting from being viewed as more indulgent protein sources.
*Heartier snack bars. Higher-protein snack bars are also leveraging the rise of snacking, and the healthful positioning of snack bars in the market.