As consumers become ever more proactive about their health and wellness, they are turning to specialised ingredients and nutrition brands that offer valued benefits.
Athletes, fitness enthusiasts and even the general population now incorporate protein supplements into their routines to support muscle growth, athletic performance and weight management, as well as targeting specific health outcomes.
Whey protein – a byproduct of the cheese industry, favoured for its creamy, indulgent taste – has traditionally been used as the key protein source for the sports nutrition industry. However, the protein contains lactose which can cause stomach upset, bloating and gas. It also excludes opportunities within the vegan market.
Thanks to a growing awareness of the benefits of plant-based diets – for both human health and the environment – the rise of plant-based proteins has introduced competition to the market, as consumers seek dairy-free alternatives to whey protein.
But for the consumer, and indeed the sector, perception of plant-based protein is a complex issue, challenged by a fundamental barrier: that of taste, texture and aftertaste. Typically plant-based proteins have a sandy, grainy texture, sometimes with a bitter flavour.
“Historically, the taste profile of plant-based proteins on the market has lagged behind that of whey,” explains Gert Gaukema, Commercial Director at AminoLabs, an international manufacturer of innovative health, sport and fitness brands, based in Belgium.
“Compared with whey proteins, the plant-based protein market in Europe has yet to mature. Furthermore, if we look at the plant-based protein market in the US, which is some way ahead, it indicates the potential for growth here in Europe.”
Tarik Becirbegovic, R&D New Product Development at AminoLabs, agrees that taste is a crucial factor for market success: “When consumers buy these products, first they consider the packaging. Then there is the taste, and if it does not taste good, they will probably not buy that product again.”
Taste is key
When a plant-based protein falls down on taste, consumers miss out not only on its free-from benefits, but also on nutritional attributes that are as effective as those conferred by whey. Data published in Sports Medicine in 2021 showed that a plant-based diet composed of plant-based whole foods and soy protein isolate supplementation was as efficacious as an omnivorous diet composed of mixed whole foods and whey protein supplementation for supporting muscle building and strength.1
“If the amino acid profile is the same, it doesn't matter if the protein is from whey or from plants,” says Gaukema. “But not all plant-based proteins are created equally. When we looked at the plant-based market in Europe, there was room for improvement both in taste and the amino acid profile.
“So we set out to shift the perception of plant-based proteins in Europe – both the taste and the amino acid profile – with an allergen-free alternative. Vital Pro XP™ has been formulated for easy digestion, too, allowing athletes and wellness enthusiasts to fully enjoy the nutritional benefits of plant-based protein.”
Vegan and allergen-free credentials
Vital Pro XP™, a blend of plant-based proteins, is the result of meticulous research, designed to offer an allergen-free, vegan-friendly, zero sugar, low fat solution with a taste to rival traditional whey protein. As a vegan alternative to whey, has been designed to mimic the taste profile, indulgent mouthfeel and aftertaste of whey protein, without the sandy texture typically associated with plant-based proteins. It is also formulated for easy digestion, allowing athletes and fitness enthusiasts to fully enjoy the benefits of plant-based protein.
Launched in October 2023 Vital Pro XP™ is already challenging common industry perceptions of plant-based proteins and rewriting the book of what's possible. Blind-tasted against several whey protein isolate (WPI) products, tasters were unable to distinguish between whey-based and the carefully blended plant-based product, likening the taste, mouthfeel and aftertaste of Vital Pro XP™ to that of whey protein.
“Your entire body needs amino acids, and not just for increasing muscle mass,” explains Becirbegovic. “During a workout, your body breaks down muscles fibres and requires amino acids and proteins to build them again.
“Vital Pro XP™ has been blended with carefully selected protein sources for a comprehensive amino acid profile for overall health, weight management, recovery and athletic performance.”
“It’s designed to be consumed before your workout or during the day, or even after your workout as a recovery. It’s a multifunctional solution that integrates with other functional ingredients to target specific health needs, such as gut health, brain health and immunity.”
Beyond its taste and nutritional credentials, Vital Pro XP™ does not compromise on sustainability; it is produced on-site, contributing to reduced carbon emissions and leveraging protein sources that are more environmentally sustainable than traditional animal-based proteins.
There’s a cost advantage associated with the blend, too, as its raw ingredients are not subject to the price volatility as that of whey.
Partnering with customers
The blend can be customised according to specific requirements of a formula. Its adaptability makes it the perfect choice for incorporating other functional ingredients, enabling the development of products that target specific health areas including gut health, brain health and immunity.
Vital Pro XP™ combines carefully selected plant-based proteins to provide a comprehensive amino acid profile, exclusively tailored for general health, muscle growth, recovery, and athletic performance. It is available as a premium raw material, empowering customers to develop superior plant-based protein products by customising the blend with other ingredients, such as flavours, and sweeteners.
AminoLabs partners with its customers in product development, ensuring that each customer's unique requirements are met. This collaborative approach, coupled with Vital Pro XP™’s qualities, position it as a versatile, sustainable and tasty solution in the innovative sector of protein supplements.
Plant-based proteins are increasingly seen as a nutritious and sustainable alternative to animal-based proteins, supporting both personal health and environmental wellbeing. As the popularity of plant-based diets continues to rise, sports nutrition companies that are positioned to innovate with plant-based protein look set to be several paces ahead in the game.
1. Study shows plant-based protein matches whey for muscle mass, strength, January 2022.