Protein Fortification Research Confirms Trend is Here to Stay

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Consumers want more protein fortified foods, and new innovations are making it easier for brands to deliver


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KerryDigest Fast Facts:

  • With consumers focused on health, the market for protein-fortified foods and beverages is predicted to keep growing.
  • Protein is perceived as delivering a range of benefits, from general wellness to weight management and energy.
  • Plant-based protein products are a key area of opportunity, as are hybrid products, which blend plant and animal proteins.
  • Applications that are consumed regularly—such as snacks—are another area ripe for innovation.
  • As consumers become increasingly savvy, higher quality protein is quickly becoming an expectation.

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Over the past decade, due to the growing consumer focus on health and rising interest in proactive—versus reactive—nutrition, proteins have moved well beyond specialized nutrition and are now thriving in the general wellness space. Between 2016 and 2020, food and beverage global product launches with a “high/source of protein” claim grew by almost 10% according to Innova Market Insights. COVID-19 has accelerated interest in functional foods, which deliver health and wellness benefits. As more consumers prioritise their health and wellness, the appeal of protein-fortified foods and beverages is poised to keep growing for years to come.

To help better understand the many growth strategies open to food and beverage manufacturers wanting to tap into protein fortification opportunities, we recently embarked on global consumer research. The resulting report, “The Protein Mindset”, highlights how brands can best tap into protein fortification opportunities. Here, we summarise some of the key takeaways from the free full-length report.

pull quote about consumer protein preferencesman drinking protein beverage in gym

The protein health halo extends beyond general wellness

While our research shows that age and geographic location influence how protein’s benefits are perceived, most consumers associate proteins strongly with overall health and wellness. However, a majority of consumers also link protein with more specific benefits, including general muscle health, energy, immunity, weight management and workout support. A smaller but still significant percentage of global consumers—over 25%—perceive proteins as beneficial to skin health and beauty.

As the perceived benefits of protein continue to grow amongst mainstream consumers and drive purchasing decisions, the opportunities in regional food and beverage markets around the world escalate in parallel. Manufacturers have an opportunity to develop a greater array of protein products with “health halo” positioning.

Plant proteins rise in popularity as do hybrid formulations

The appeal of emerging plant-based food and beverage products has grown significantly as consumers accept plants as a source of ethical and sustainable protein. Our research found that more than 60% of global consumers say plant proteins are their preferred protein source, ranging from 48% of consumers in North America up to 75% in the Asia Pacific region.

As plant proteins continue to gain traction and consumer acceptance, they are fast becoming a key target for innovation in the protein fortification space: According to Innova, global product launches of snacks containing plant proteins grew by 49% between 2018 and 2020.

Focusing on hybrid formulations, which often blend plant and dairy proteins, is an opportunity for manufacturers that want to introduce plant-based solutions to more mainstream consumers. More than 65% of global protein consumers say that hybrid protein products are appealing to them according to the research in our new report “The Protein Mindset”.

This finding—that investing in hybrid-protein products is highly appealing to consumers—was not a surprise, given the majority of consumers driving the plant-based market are “flexitarians”, or consumers that enjoy both animal- and plant-based foods.

There are also production benefits to taking a hybrid approach: Plant protein can bring taste and texture challenges in formulations. However, a hybrid protein formulation can help to overcome these challenges while also introducing consumers to the significant sustainability and nutritional benefits of plant proteins. Hybrid protein formulations are also a good strategy to increase the nutritional quality of the protein and deliver a complete essential amino acid profile.

pouring a green smoothiepull quote about protein ingredients

Fortifying high-frequency food and beverage applications

Historically, food and beverage manufacturers have leaned toward formulating with protein in classic product offerings such as protein shakes and bars due to challenges around taste, texture and solubility. Today, most of these challenges have been overcome with protein technology innovations, which creates opportunities to expand protein fortification to new product categories. Our research indicates that protein fortification is most appealing to consumers across high-frequency food and beverage items including breakfast granola, ice cream, bread, cookies, yogurt, juices, waters, smoothies and coffee.

In the last year, we have supported manufacturers across the globe in delivering protein fortification across innovative formats including spreads, ice cream, waters, smoothies and carbonated beverages. Many new formats will appear on the shelves in the future as protein continue its mainstream appeal.

Nutritional quality and clean label in focus for consumers

While taste remains the primary purchase driver for protein-enriched food and beverages, protein quality ranks second. We believe this represents an opportunity for brands to deliver higher quality protein and communicate related health and sustainability benefits on pack.

Dairy proteins provide a high-quality complete protein, or one that achieves a PDCAAS (Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Profile) score of 1 whereas most of plant protein have lower PDCAAS scores. However, a higher quality protein and PDCAAS of 1, can be achieved by combining different plant protein sources. Hybrid protein formulation is also a good strategy to achieve better protein quality.

With a high focus on health, consumers are increasingly demanding transparency, nutritional and ingredient information on their products, including ones with added protein. These discerning consumers are highly sensitive to ingredient declarations and have a rising awareness of clean labelling and “natural” claims. In fact, two of the strong purchase drivers of protein-enriched foods and beverages among this group continue to be clean label and on-pack “better for you” claims.

Moreover, claims on pack related to sustainability and environment are gaining traction and becoming more important for wellness consumers.

Brands have a renewed opportunity to develop new products or reformulate current offerings with simpler, more natural ingredients that are more transparent.

There remain many other opportunities to innovate and deliver competitive advantage by innovating new products and creating new twists and takes with protein fortification. To learn more, download the Protein Mindset report or contact us to hear more about our research.

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