Macronutrient upgrade: Protein-infused food looks to enhance form & function

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

Mars’ decision back in May to infuse larges dose of protein into its bestselling Snickers and Mars chocolate bars signalled to many that protein consumption had hit the mainstream sector.

The trend has been fuelled by the demand that food ‘works’ for the consumer with not only nutritional requirements met but also enhancements in energy, brain function and immune health. In essence, food needs to be functional. 

Physical augmentation

amino acid protein whey sports muscle body building
High-protein foods have made the jump from the gym to the baskets of every day consumers. ©iStock

“The crossover of protein from the sports nutrition sector into the mainstream is being facilitated by gym-going consumers, who want to augment their recovery in a non-aggressive manner,” ​said Alexander Kottke, analyst for Euromonitor.

“Traditional sports nutrition products are no longer attractive,” ​he added. “Consumers are now looking at products such as high-protein energy bars.”

Previously only for the reserve of body builders and keep-fit fanatics, high-protein foods have made the jump from the gym to the baskets of every day consumers, attracted by the affordability and convenience of a protein-enriched food and its purported health benefits.

Europe, among other regions, has seen a steady stream of high-protein products hit the supermarket shelves. 

From yoghurts​ to soup to cheese​, product makers have experimented with staple products to see if protein-enriched functional foods appeal to the consumer.

“High-protein soup is a new concept designed to shake up the category,”​ said Kottke. “We’re also seeing the rise of products designed to hit many nutritional spots at once.”

Latest figures suggest customers are warming to these products. Euromonitor International values the European sector for protein foods and supplements (that omits mainstream bars) at €800m – an increase from €487m in 2009 with growth expected to reach €1.2bn by 2019.*

The largest markets have been identified as the UK, Germany, Sweden and France with a value of approximately €550m between the countries.

Market analyst Nielsen added that it saw sales of protein bars in the UK increase by 58% in 2015 to £22m (€26m).

Additional Mintel data has also seen that 17% of UK customers purchase high-protein food or drink for consumption between meals.

The science part

On paper, a high-protein diet has the scientific community divided. The latest research suggests that practising this dietary regimen keeps blood pressure in check​ as well as promote weight loss via appetite suppression.

On the other hand, high-protein diets have been implicated in increasing the risk of developing chronic kidney conditions​ ​and high cholesterol.

Critics point to red meat - a source of saturated fatty acids and iron – intakes as part of a high-protein diet that may promote negative health aspects if eaten in high quantities.

Adding further consumer choice are the various animal and vegetable forms like whey, casein, soy, wheat, pea, algae. The emergence of insect protein provides further food for thought. Scientific opinion favours the plant-based forms​ but a strong case will always be made for animal-based protein.

Official protein policy

body building gym protein muscle strength
Current EU guidelines recommend 0.66 g protein per kilogram of body weight for an adult male. ©iStock

Current EU guidelines recommend 0.66 g protein per kilogram of body weight for an adult male, lower for women and children. This would equate to roughly 52 g of protein per day for an 80 kg man.   

Global recommendations differ with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommending 0.83 g of protein per kilogram of body weight for an adult male.

*The Euromonitor figure of €800m for the European protein food market is contested by some who believe 75% of the €4bn European sports nutrition market alone is accounted for by protein-based products. These differences are usually accounted for by specific definitions used to outline the market segment.

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