What’s next for protein?
Speaking at IFT in Chicago last week, Mintel directors of innovation and insight, Lynn Dornblaser and David Jago, said that vegan product launches now outpace vegetarian launches in the United States, where many food trends are born before spreading worldwide. Six per cent of all new products introduced there last year carried a vegan claim, up from less than 1% a few years ago.
“Plant-based options are appearing across nearly every category,” Jago said, citing drinks, snack bars and meat alternatives in particular.
A perfect storm for alternatives
On a global level, plant-based protein consumption has been driven by food scandals linked to meat products, such as the horsemeat crisis, as well as ethical and environmental issues, and concerns about health and wellness. In addition, the incidence of food allergies and intolerances has increased, meaning that more consumers than ever before are seeking lactose-free and dairy-free products.
The main driver for meat reduction is heart health, Jago said, saying that older consumers in particular are embracing their doctor’s advice to cut red and processed meat – but young consumers increasingly are concerned about their heart health too.
“What consumers are looking for are normal sources of protein. They are not looking for fortified foods that have had protein added to them,” he said. “...Health, ethics, money: all these factors are creating the perfect storm for the alternative protein market.”
Dornblaser added that 34% of US consumers buy non-dairy milks because of their higher protein content, and 46% of young US consumers say meat alternatives are healthier for them than meat.
In the US, soy and almond are still the most popular milk alternatives, but others are emerging, including coconut, followed by quinoa, hazelnut, spelt and tiger nut. In Europe, Bjorg Bio plays on the ‘praline’ flavour of its hazelnut milk – and grains like amaranth and teff are also ingredients to watch, she said.
Pea protein is attracting food and drink makers’ attention too, and is beginning to expand into categories beyond protein enrichment, including drinks.
“Consumers are interested in plant sources for dairy alternative drinks. It makes sense that pea protein is a part of manufacturers’ arsenal,” Dornblaser said.
Supergreens and protein fusion
Looking ahead, Jago said algae – which he dubbed ‘supergreens’ – could hold potential as plant-derived proteins start appearing in more and more mainstream products.
“Marine protein is an area that’s reasonably hot but relatively unexplored,” he said, adding that it is used in a very small number of foods and drinks, but is much more popular in food supplements.
Finally, he predicted that fusion – blending multiple protein sources – was one area to consider in the future.
“It has potential in terms of taste and cost, and also the way the body processes proteins,” he said.