Next Generation Protein Opportunities

Originally Published: April 18, 2017
Last Updated: February 28, 2021
The aging population is turning to protein products for health and wellness.

When looking at protein demographics data, the tendency is to focus on the X, Y and Millennial generations—and on how to create new products that appeal to those consumers. In discussing the next generation in protein opportunities, A. Elizabeth Sloan, Ph.D., President, Sloan Trends, Inc., recommended looking to other segments, as well. Sloan gave her presentation “Capitalizing on the Next Generation of Protein Opportunities: Sustaining the Rush.” at the 2016 Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar.

Next Generation Protein Opportunities-Sloan-2016

Half the U.S. population is over 50—a group whose interest in exercising has noticeable increased.

Boomers are turning 70 and are taking what was familiar when they were young and bringing it along as they age. “Half the U.S. population is over 50; that’s where the money is,” Sloan said.

“Tiredness/Lack of Energy” is one of the top consumer concerns of those 50 and over. The connection of protein to both physical and mental energy is emerging. “Providing physical and mental energy to help adults and children get through the day and remain alert/energized is a top motivator” to get consumers to eat breakfast. The concept that foods can naturally provide energy is both believable and well-understood. More than half of 18-24-year-olds, for example, are regular energy drink users, Sloan pointed out. Protein drinks could be reformulated to better match the needs and interests of those older, as well, she suggested.

The $31 billion sports nutrition sector has expanded into the mainstream in recent years. The number of people regularly exercising has increased, with the most noticeable group being the 50+ crowd. Activities such as gym usage (14%), aerobic exercise (46%), walking (25%) and running (87%) have all gone up in the past five years.

When the 50+ group is asked about solutions to their health concerns, the number one response, consistently, is exercise. Mobility is a major consumer concern for aging consumers, and it’s firmly tied to weight loss and muscle loss—two areas already firmly aligned with protein. According to a 2014 Gallup “Study of U.S. Market for Vitamins & Other Dietary Supplements,” 30% of adults mention age-related muscle loss and loss of strength as issues of concern. Sloan added that “aligning joints with muscle and protein is a very big idea.”

Consumers link protein to muscle health exercise recovery, satiety, energy and weight loss (all more than 60%); lately, a new focus has been on protein to improve hair, skin and nail health (32%). Additionally, according to the “2014 Gallup Study of Protein,” 33% of adults surveyed also associate immunity as a health benefit of protein.

Consumers turn to protein for weight loss, and this area is “quietly on fire,” Sloan said. It’s up 7% in the last year, and the weight-loss business in the past five years has been driven primarily by men (69% of the growth), especially young ones.

Older women are trying to lose weight, while more senior women are trying to maintain weight. Women 55+ are the biggest bar consumers. “The largest untapped market in the U.S. is post-menopausal women,” Sloan advised. Linking weight control and proteins for this group is an opportunity.

In grocery meat cases, many retailers now provide nutrition information for fresh meat/poultry. Millennials want more energy, iron and protein—so retailers also call out protein in the produce department. Said Sloan, “Those buying fresh, minimally processed food are the same group who buy fortified foods and who want added nutrition and nutrition claims on fresh/refrigerated foods.”

Millennials still drive several protein trends, including plant-based proteins: 76% of households ate protein alternatives for weekly dinners last year, while the use of meat/poultry fell to an average of 3.7 times/ week. There is a $2.7 billion opportunity in plant-based dairy foods, beyond beverages, Sloan added.

Millennial parents drive opportunities in the $41 billion kid-specific market. More than 50% of parents are concerned about development and protection against diseases later in life. Some 47% of households with children actively seek out protein.

Another new arena for protein is the pet food market, which always follows human food trends. Also, the Latino, Asian and African-American segments are all more likely to seek out protein claims compared to Caucasians; this also is a relatively untapped arena.

“Capitalizing on the Next Generation of Protein Opportunities: Sustaining the Rush,” A. Elizabeth Sloan, Ph.D., President, Sloan Trends, Inc.,, 760-741-9611,

This presentation was given at the 2016 Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar. To download presentations from this event, go to

See past and future Protein Trends & Technologies Seminars at