Special edition: Protein

Mainstream keen on protein foods (but supplements still rule)

By Shane STARLING contact

- Last updated on GMT

High-protein yoghurts have risen in popularity, including non-fortified Greek yoghurts which have a natural fit to the high-protein halo.
High-protein yoghurts have risen in popularity, including non-fortified Greek yoghurts which have a natural fit to the high-protein halo.
Protein has been hot for some years and shows no sign of abating in the near future as diet trends flip in protein’s favour from largely discredited low-fat to lower-carb/higher-protein regimes and a broader health halo around various protein forms.

In Europe, as elsewhere, high-protein foods from yoghurts to bars to cereals to butters have proliferated employing animal and vegetable forms like whey, casein, soy, wheat, pea, algae and maybe soon in the future, insect proteins (if EU regulations permit).

Core segments like gym users for whey protein powders and other more lifestyle users who like the affordability and convenience of a protein supplement they may take to control weight or improve their heart health, remain robust.

Euromonitor International puts the European market for protein foods and supplements (excluding mainstream bars) at €800m, up from €487m in 2009 and set to grow to €1.2bn by 2019*. The UK, Germany, Sweden and France are the biggest markets, accounting for about €550m between them. The overall European sports nutrition market for end-products is estimated to be worth about €4bn including sports drinks. 

Mintel food science analyst Laura-Daisy Jones observed, "Protein’s satiating powers that help manage hunger have implicated it in weight management and it is seen as a natural source of sustained energy."

Protein health halo

“Despite the rise in high-protein versions of standard packaged foods/beverages, we still expect protein supplements to post strong growth throughout the world through 2019,”​ says Chris Schmidt, senior consumer health analyst at Euromonitor International.

“One reason behind the continued strong growth is that awareness of protein as a ‘better-for-you’ ingredient is much higher than consumer understanding of how much protein they actually need (and generally consume) in much of the world.”

While the growth of fortified packaged foods/beverages may be a long-term threat to growth, that overestimation of protein needs, combined with factors like formulation innovation (plant sources, the addition of weight management and energy ingredients, etc.), expansion of convenience formats (particularly protein ready to drink (RTDs)) and the generally lower cost-per-serving of supplements (of particular concern for the heavy consumption athlete demographic) should serve as a moat of sorts for the foreseeable future.”

Michael Hiron, head of dairy & lifestyle ingredients at UK dairy ingredient specialist, Volac, agrees.

“We still see protein supplements, especially RTM (ready to mix) powders, leading the way and growing the category primarily due to cost.”

“Sure, there will always be consumers looking to purchase foods fortified with additional protein, but we see the convenience sector being the largest driver behind the protein story with RTD’s, bars and snacks.”

cereal_bars
Bar up: Athletes and non-athletes alike have taken to this matrix

Hiron adds: “One only has to take a look around the supermarkets, and also online, to see how everyday foods are muscling in on the protein revolution – cereals, breads, crisps, nut butters, ice creams, yoghurts, ready meals….. the list continues to grow, but is this enough to deter people from buying supplements, and will it create this mainstream market that everybody talks about?”

That’s debatable but the mainstream market is certainly more aware now of potential health benefits like satiety promotion and battling sarcopenia (muscle wasting) than was the case 10 or 20 years again when protein powders were seen as the pure domain of the muscle-building gym goer or maybe something that was added to infant formula and follow-on formula.

“There will be still a specific market for hardcore sports people who look for isolated proteins, peptides or amino acids, a market for clinical nutrition, that will expand due to the increasing of life expectancy, and a market for lifestyle people who look for protein to balance their daily diet, feel repleted or reboot their body after physical effort,” ​observes Emily Delommez from French firm Roquette, which supplies proteins from sources like pea and algae.

For the record, EU intake recommendations are about 52 g of protein per day for an 80 kg man using the recommendation of 0.66 g protein per kilogram of body weight, less for women and children. Other recommendations differ. The WHO recommends 0.83 g of good quality proteins while a 2012 Nordic Nutrition recommendation set a level of 1.2 g per kilogram of body weight per day.

At the source…

This recommendation doesn’t differentiate between plant and animal proteins although many in the animal protein sector would like it to​, especially after the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) backed a protein measurement system called Digestible Indispensable Amino Acids Score (DIAAS), which showed dairy proteins could deliver up to 30% more amino acids than plant sources like soy isolates.

The soy sector didn't dispute this but say the difference is only relevant in undernourished populations and not in developed regions like Europe where surveys show most people actually consume enough protein most days. They also point to the sustainability credentials of soy and other vegetable sources of protein.

The French National Health and Nutrition Programme recommends an equal balance between plant and animal sources.

sports supplements powder pills

While that debate plays out the rise of protein foods and drinks is leading to increased protein blending.

A spokesperson for DuPont, which owns the Solae soy ingredients brand, said blending offered benefits, some of them price, taste, texture or even performance based.

“Our study has shown that certain combinations of animal and vegetable origin proteins show prolonged muscle protein synthesis in sports nutrition recovery products.”

Mintel data indicates that of global plant protein GNPD data bases, among plant-based proteins used in sports nutrition products as new launch in the last 5 years, pea protein represents 43% in North America and 16% in Europe while soy proteins remain the main protein ingredient used by far worldwide.

For Volac, there is room for multiple protein streams. “Certain lifestyles require greater amounts of protein, for example, to optimise the benefits of physical activity or to improve a health condition,”​ said Hiron.

lindseyormond-arlaFI
Lindsey Ormond: “There is space for everybody."

“Of course this is all positive news for protein manufacturers, what we have to avoid at all costs is mixed messages about high protein consumption that causes confusion amongst consumers as protein is featuring almost daily in the media.”

Lindsey Ormond, business development manager for health and performance nutrition at Arla Food Ingredients in Denmark said multiple protein sources were fine but noted protein quality did vary greatly in both the animal and plant sphere.

“The science shows dairy proteins perform better, especially in muscle recovery, but blending can bring other benefits, but the most important thing is that there is innovation around formats,” ​Ormond said.

“There is space for everybody. Consumers need options and good tasting products.”

protein-euromonitor
Protein snapshot in processed foods & drinks (excluding supplements)

*The Euromonitor figure of €800m for the European protein food market quoted at the neginning of the article is disputed by some who claim three quarters of the €4bn European sports nutrition market alone is accounted for by protein-based products. Such discrepencies are often accounted for by whatever definition may be employed to define the market segment. 

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