Diverse Drivers of Protein Demand

Originally Published: May 31, 2018
Last Updated: November 29, 2021
Diverse Drivers of Protein Demand Pose Marketing Challenges

ACROSS THE GLOBE, but especially in America, the drive to add more animal and plant protein to human diets continues unabated, even as consumers remain somewhat vague as to their reasons why. And, diverse drivers of protein demand pose marketing challenges. In his presentation titled “Consumer Trends in Protein; What is the Real Marketing Opportunity,” Steve French, MBA, Managing Director, NMI, raised some interesting concerns. For example, French stated: “We can’t rely upon the status quo to feed a global population that will reach 10 billion by the year 2050. We need to make changes that are better not just for human health, but also the health of the planet.”

That said, he let the sometimes counter-intuitive numbers tell their tale. While only 14% of the U.S. population feels deficient in protein, 43% of consumers seek more protein in their diet, said French. In 2017, 59% of consumers said that they actively sought out foods high in protein, a 51% increase over 11 years. “It’s hard to find any other market growth trend as high as this.” The reasons why vary. “The primary reason that consumers cite for adding protein to their diet is all about having energy…having less fatigue, getting out of bed and being more competitive. The secondary reasons are man-aging weight and maintaining muscle mass.”

French noted that all of these reasons track well with aging population trends. Interestingly, 69% of consumers also cite “a healthy mind” as a primary driver. These drivers are especially trending in Asia, where the focus is both on healthy cognition and cosmetics…i.e., mitigating the physical signs of aging.

“Protein benefit perceptions vary by age, so it is important to know one’s target consumer segment, in terms of understanding the bene- fits that resonate the most,” continued French. For Millennials, it is about building muscle, while for (especially female) Boomers, it is about increasing bone density and perceived cosmetic benefits. French referred to NMI’s breakdown of consumer segments by their appetites for innovation:

• The Well Beings (26% of consumers) represent the proactive trendsetters.
• The Food Actives (14%) are mainstream, healthy consumers that seek self-directed balance in all things.
• The Magic Bullet group (20%) exhibits lower commitments to healthy lifestyles, preferring quick fixes instead. This is also the least healthy group.
• Fence Sitters (23%) are more “wannabee” healthy consumers looking for quick and easy solutions. This is unsurprising, as many are raising families.
• The Eat, Drink and Be Merry consumers (17%) may not be “healthy active,” but that doesn’t mean they aren’t healthy.

While Well Beings may be the more obvious group to pursue, French suggests that Fence Sitters offer a secondary target, as measured by consumers that continue to use high-protein foods and those consuming plant proteins over the course of a year.

But it is important to remember that protein is not the only driver in consumer food and beverage choices. “Traditionally, the four main drivers have been taste followed by price/value, nutritional value and convenience,” he observed. That said, “this year is t he first year that we saw nutritional value rise to the number two position of drivers.”

In terms of what types of proteins consumers prefer, only 7% of consumers believe plant-based products represent the “best source” of protein, whereas animal protein still rules, with 50% support. The prevailing consumer sentiment is that animal proteins provide essential nutrients not present in plant sources. Nonetheless, French spots countervailing trends that should provide opportunities for plant protein-based foods and beverages. “There is a groundswell in the U.S. and other parts of the world against the use of hormones and antibiotics in foods…41% of consumers that we surveyed responded that they believe plant-based proteins are more environmentally friendly than meat.”

Thus, he concluded, consumers will continue to integrate animal and plant proteins into their diets and lifestyles—even as the U.S. protein market, at least, shows signs of maturing.

“Consumer Trends in Protein; What is the Real Marketing Opportunity?”, Steve French, MBA, Managing Director, NMI

This presentation was given at the 2018 Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar — Protein Ingredients: Business Strategies

Click here for access to the PowerPoint presentation of Consumer Trends in Protein, by Steve French, MBA, Managing Director, NMI

Click to see the list of past and future Protein Trends & Technologies Seminars .