Protein Beverage Trends and Innovation


The powerful benefits of protein and growing interest in health and wellbeing are heralding an expansion in functional beverages tastes, textures and formats

KerryDigest Fast Facts:
  • The global beverage category is expected to surpass $1 trillion by 2022.
  • Functional beverages targeting general health and wellness are predicted to emerge as the fastest-growing subsector as consumer interest drives product innovation.
  • The protein beverage trend is extremely popular with consumers: protein accounts for 30% of functional ingredients used in the beverage market.
  • New and innovative dairy and plant protein ingredients and sources are allowing for exciting innovation in product development including refreshing clear protein beverages and tasty smoothies.

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KerryDigest Full Scoop:

Protein-enriched products continue to thrive in the general wellness space. Because beverages are a key application for added functional ingredients, protein beverages are trending. In the global beverage market, which is projected to grow 12% annually to reach $1 billion by 2022, functional beverages are predicted to be the fastest-growing subsector, according to a Euromonitor Passport analysis from August of 2018. Between 2015 and 2019, Mintel reports product launches with added functionality claims grew by 19%. Protein now represents almost 30% of functional ingredient use in beverages, according to MarketsandMarkets.

The high protein beverage trend is driven by myriad factors, among them a growing public focus on health and wellness, sustainability and the emergence of innovative and highly functional plant and dairy proteins. According to Kerry’s research, mainstream consumers purchase protein products to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle first and foremost, followed by the goals of weight management and supporting muscle health.

With plant proteins and dairy proteins both in demand, the landscape and challenges around the use of protein will continue to shift. In this article, we discuss the potential of protein as a “healthy hero” ingredient in functional beverages.

Dairy, plant and other mainstream protein ingredients
Around the globe, especially in mature and emerging markets, the demand for high-quality sustainably produced dairy, animal and plant proteins is escalating.

Dairy protein is a historic mainstay and the gold standard of the protein beverage marketplace. It has valuable attributes as a protein source: it ranks high in protein quality scores and delivers a clean, neutral taste, texture and mouthfeel in beverage applications. A Kerry study found that just over 70% of consumers rank flavour and taste as the “most important” factor in a beverage purchase, which is one reason dairy protein has found such wide acceptance.

While dairy sources have long led in protein-enriched beverages, plant alternatives are coming up fast. For instance, exciting new sources such as canola (also known as rapeseed), sunflower and flax are joining established plant protein sources including soy, pea and rice as top choices for nutritional and functional proteins in foods and beverages. Reinforcing and driving all of these changes has been a rapid adoption of plant-based diets. Plant-based food can pack a health helping in the areas of fibre, mineral and vitamin content.

Still, taste remains paramount. Although plant proteins can experience more taste and texture challenges in application than dairy proteins, there have been great innovations in plant-based proteins ingredients and technologies that mask flavour and smooth texture. This is good news for the more than two-thirds of consumers view protein from plant sources as “healthy” compared to the 42% that take the same view of animal protein, according to Kerry research.

protein drinks-quotes2chocolate protein shake

Protein blends for beverages
Although consumers may state a preference for a certain type of protein, there’s a case to be made for using a protein blend in products. Pea protein, for example, is allergen-free and clean-label, has a mild flavour profile and is perceived as being sustainable. These traits make it desirable in new product development and a top pick amongst consumers. However, pea is not a complete protein. It’s deficient in methionine and cysteine, two of the essential amino acids, so combining it with a complementary protein source such as rice protein can greatly improve its quality. Although blends are especially common in the plant protein products, some brands are successfully combining plant and dairy proteins, too.

woman tying shoe with protein drink in front of herAlthough plant proteins can experience more taste and texture challenges in application than dairy proteins, there have been great innovations in plant-based proteins ingredients and technologies that mask flavour and smooth texture.

Consumers driving the protein beverage trend
As protein has become more mainstream, its consumer segment has expanded to include people at all life stages. The midlife and ageing populations, especially, are interested in the health benefits of protein and functional protein beverages. As we age, our bodies become less efficient at using protein to maintain healthy muscle. As a result, people are supplementing their daily diets with sufficient amounts of protein.

In the U.S., consumers between 45 to 54 years old tend to want more than 20g per serving of protein in their enriched beverages, according to proprietary Kerry research, and the ageing population is turning to protein beverages to combat a steady decline in muscle mass and bone health.

With new research underway, scientific circles are revisiting the ideal protein target for older adults. In research published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Associations and the Clinical Nutrition Journal, among others, some international experts groups have proposed increasing the recommended dietary allowance of protein by older adults by up to 25 or 50%, moving from 0.8g of protein per kg of bodyweight to 1 to 1.2g per kg. Our new white paper on protein in beverages examines these fast-moving shifts in detail, illustrating what various age groups want in protein beverages and addressing how beverage protein content and claims can be fine-tuned to address the needs of different consumers groups.

Innovative concepts in functional protein beverages
As the category grows, creative ingredients and new technologies will continue to move functional beverages beyond the realm of classic protein powder drink mixes and the ubiquitous “protein shake”. Among these new innovations are a range of enticing new formats, tastes and textures of functional high protein beverages.

For instance, “clear” proteins such as Kerry’s ProDiem™ Refresh can be used to create refreshing and transparent low-pH protein waters, juices and energy drinks. The resulting beverages are refreshing and can maintain a clean-label status since stabilisers are not required. Also trending are ready-to-drink protein-added iced coffee drinks, breakfast beverages, milks and shakes, which can be made even creamier with the use of grass-fed dairy proteins such as those in the Ultranor™ line or vegan ProDiem™ proteins. As product developers work with ingredients suppliers to address the rapid evolution in consumer preferences, the full spectrum of possibilities is open to innovation and new product launches.

To learn more about using protein to develop exciting new and on-trend protein beverages, download our white paper “Unlocking the power of Proteins in Beverages” or contact Kerry. Our protein scientists and product developers can support you in targeting the exciting, quickly evolving functional beverage market opportunity.


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