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Volac launches consumer brand to push whey protein beyond macho male niche

By Ben Bouckley , 29-Feb-2012

The Good Whey Company's 'Good Whey Original' product: Volac hopes such products will find favour with 30 year-old plus consumers less interested in 'performance' than health
The Good Whey Company's 'Good Whey Original' product: Volac hopes such products will find favour with 30 year-old plus consumers less interested in 'performance' than health

European whey protein manufacturer Volac has launched its first consumer branded products to drive mainstream awareness of the benefits of whey protein beyond a macho male niche, and protect the market from outlandish health claims and poor quality products.

The Good Whey Company’s branded whey protein powder products will initially be available online (via a website launched today) and DairyReporter.com discussed the imminent launch exclusively with Volac’s head of lifestyle nutrition, Mark Neville, in Holland last week.

The branded range includes ‘Good Whey Original’ (£13.95 or €16.50 for 500g) a powder designed to mix with juice, milk and water (with at least 71% protein, and at least 17g of protein per serving), with low lactose, GM free and natural colours and flavourings. 

Good Whey Premium Triple Filtered’ (£15.95) contains at least 80% protein (at least 20g per serving); both products are available in vanilla, banana, strawberry, real chocolate flavours, while an unflavoured option can be mixed with fruits and smoothies, or mixed with recipes. 

Neville told DairyReporter.com: “As the year goes on we’ll be bringing out new products, and I would expect to see it move into retail. There are those [retailers] who are keen to talk, but first we are establishing the product in the marketplace.” 

Protecting whey protein

Discussing Volac’s desire to launch a retail brand, Neville said: “We have a large interest in whey protein. It’s a big part of our business, and it’s a highly successful market today – we have regular calls from the biggest and best world brands, wanting to get into this market.”

“But we need to make sure that’s there in 10 years. At the moment we do a lot of work indirectly in the market, working with our customers to get the right image out there for whey protein, steering people away from any claims that don’t have proper scientific backup.”

Neville first revealed to this publication that Volac (turnover circa. £200m) was planning to launch a retail brand within the context of a discussion on ‘Volactive Hydropro’, an ingredient to produce clear whey-protein based sports beverage – launched at Health Ingredients Europe (HIE) 2010.

He said the concept had yet to properly take off: “The issue is that products in this area are trying to create a sub-category of a well-established area [sports drinks]. But consumers need education about protein – do consumers understand that it’s a fundamental building block of life? Not really at this stage.”

“The sports drink market needs to resuscitate itself – I question the point of a sugar-free sports drink, for instance, since that market was built on replenishing glycogen. But I’m convinced that the companies that step out and do this first, will do well out of it. Going for the UK market, say.”

“Plenty of people are looking at it [Volactive Hydropro], but until someone puts something on the shelves it’s difficult for me to tell you more about it.”

Targeting ‘lifestyle’ consumers

An associated desire to educate consumers directly as to whey protein’s benefits fed into Volac’s desire to launch its own retail brand. “It’s about taking whey protein out of the niche where it sits and saying ‘these are the benefits for a much wider audience’,” Neville said.

Benefits stressed by Volac for the new branded products include maintenance of healthy muscles and bones, and Neville said: “Currently whey protein is generally consumed by 16-30 year old males, that’s the heartland. And we’ve spent the last 18 months doing consumer research looking at where the gap is in the market.”

Consequently, Volac was targeting ‘lifestyle consumers’ rather than the sports nutrition market, Neville added: “Sports nutrition as a concept has really developed over the past few years, effectively due to body-building brands who’ve wanted enter the mainstream.

“But we are saying that you don’t have to be an extreme athlete to gain the benefits of well-timed whey protein as part of the diet, or have additional unnecessary ingredients in there such as creatine. We’re not talking about consuming significant amounts of extra protein, but high quality protein consumed at a sensible time of the day."

Attracting women into market

Although the products were also aimed at 30+ males, Neville said that a specific focus area was 30 year-old plus females. “That’s a whole market not interested in whey protein, because they think they will bulk up. But that only comes from reps in the gym, but this product is natural; it isn’t a steroid or supplement, but a food that will help you get a leaner body composition,” he said.

“A number of studies look at muscle decline over time, at around 35-40 years plus. The earlier you can address such issues the better, so you can lead a fulfilling life and be mobile towards the end of it.”

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has rejected whey protein health claims (under Article 13) relating to (1) satiety (2) maintenance or achievement of normal body weight (3) growth or maintenance of muscle mass (4) increase in lean muscle mass during energy restriction and resistance training (5) reduction of body fat mass during energy restriction and resistance training.

Other claims rejected in the same September 2010 scientific opinion included (6) increased muscle strength (7) increased endurance during the subsequent exercise bout following strenuous exercise (8) skeletal muscle tissue repair, and (9) faster recovery from muscle fatigue after exercise.

But Neville said this was not a hurdle to the success of The Good Whey Company: “We know the area inside-out, what we can and cannot do. There’s plenty of good ground there we can work on. We’ve got positive decisions on protein, and this product is a very efficient way of having that.”

He added: “Does it work? Consumers will tell you that it does, and that’s the reason why whey protein has been so successful in the 16-30 year old male group, you feel the benefits.”

Health claims landscape

Despite the rejection of health claims for whey protein, Neville said he welcomed the tightening-up of the claims landscape to protect the market from spurious claims and bad products.

He said: “It’s going to come and hurt a lot of people later this year [when EFSA’s scientific opinions become law] many of whom don’t know what’s going to hit them. But will EFSA have the teeth to enforce things, especially with smaller companies that may be in a position to claim they didn’t know they were doing the wrong thing?”

Neville said that EFSA’s enforcement regime might necessitate taking a company to court, by which stage 6-12 months might have passed and that firm may have benefited unfairly from making unauthorised claims.

Consequently, Volac was still worried that outlandish claims for potentially bad quality whey protein-based products could damage consumer trust, Neville said: “That’s why we feel we have to do something about it and have direct relationship with the consumer, fill that space with correct information as an authority on whey protein, not have that information filtered by a third party.”

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