Consumer Demand, Health & Proteins

Originally Published: December 12, 2017
Last Updated: February 4, 2021
Consumer Demand for Healthier Food Impacts Protein Use. A sketch of a fit man holding a container labeled 100% protein shows how the consumer trend toward healthier lifestyles impacts protein use in foods and beverages.


Consumer Demand, Health & Proteins

Consumers are bringing nutrient-dense foods into their diets based on what they think will make them healthier. Kara Nielsen, Innova Market Insights, sees protein as a driving force in these product purchases. This is reflected in launches tracked from 2015-2016.

In her 2017 Protein Trends & Technology Conference-Formulating with Proteins presentation titled “Body in Tune: How Consumer Demand for Healthier Food Impacts Protein Use in Foods & Beverages,” Nielson started by saying that the growth of the protein market is led by sports nutrition. Protein fits into the notion of an active lifestyle. Formats and positioning are expanding, with the highest increase in sports bars (17%), sports powders (12%) and ready-to-drink categories (11%), as people look for more convenience and accessibility.

Dairy-based protein continues to be the strongest and fastest growing ingredient in sports nutrition, foods for babies and toddlers, and cereals. Plant proteins are highest in the cereal category but low in the sports nutrition category. [For larger PDF version of chart, click on image.]

Specificity is also in demand. “We now have targeted products that focus on every moment and every bodily need,” observed Nielsen. This includes pre-workout, which concentrates on energy and muscle-building; intra-workout for a boost to finish; and finally, the recovery side. Different protein ingredients are being marketed as key to each one of these stages.

With more people participating in sporty activities, expansion is targeting more consumer segments. Niche products are positioned to attract consumers with an active lifestyle, or they may be designed for a certain demographic, such as sex or age group. Positioning is also spreading beyond athletic categories.

“Sports nutrition is becoming more normalized,” she continued, with 17% more product launches with a snacking claim, and in innovative formats and culinary flavors. The category is migrating into more mainstream foods formats, such as nut butters, bagels and waffles. Protein-enriched snacks are ideally positioned, because they often have other healthful benefits that are less common in other snacks. Additional health claims may include gluten-free, high-fiber or low-fat.

“The protein claim has moved out quickly over a number of years into every aisle of the grocery store,” Nielsen said. Dairy is experiencing the largest growth of products featuring sport-related claims (up 46% in 2016 vs. 2015). Ready meals saw a 32% increase with the movement of protein pulses into pasta and other products with reduced carbohydrates. Cereal products rose 24%.

Specialization continues with products targeted for seniors or children; for on-the-go breakfast or lunch; and for weight management and satiety. Yet protein claims also have broad appeal as part of an everyday lifestyle. Product labels may boast protein for health and convenience. Some products are directed to certain times of the day—from breakfast to fuel the morning to a mid-afternoon energy boost.

Protein-rich ingredients also have a place in indulgent treats. A Mars bar that is fortified with 19g protein may be a guilt-free choice over an ordinary Mars bar. Similarly, high-protein frozen yogurt or chocolate pudding may be perceived as a healthier option.

Consumers not only want to know the amount of protein; they are also paying more attention to the source of protein. They are looking for identification of the protein and to understand the contents of a protein blend.

Nielsen foresees more formulations with premium ingredients and deeper interest in amino acids, as the sports nutrition category evolves. Continued expansion into mainstream aisles will bring more food-like products in convenient formats targeted for consumer segments.

For consumers who seek to get their bodies in tune with personalized protein, she recommends enhancing products with real food ingredients. “Plant-based protein will continue to grow. It’s part of our ethos right now in thinking, whether it’s environmental (animal welfare), or health and nutrition (reducing cholesterol).” There are a lot of different reasons for choosing plant-based products. She believes catering to that need is important.

With protein claims increasingly driving activity across categories, one wonders when the trend might stall. “As someone who talks about trends, I keep thinking we’ve hit ‘peak protein.’ It doesn’t seem like we’re quite there,” Nielsen said.

“Body in Tune: How Consumer Demand for Healthier Food Impacts Protein Use in Foods & Beverages,” Kara Nielsen, Innova Market Insights, Netherlands

This presentation was given at the 2017 Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar. To download presentations from this event, go to

See past and future Protein Trends & Technologies Seminars at