Consumer Attitudes Toward Proteins

Originally Published: August 22, 2013
Last Updated: March 4, 2021
Protein consumption is on the rise as consumers focus more on health and wellness.

August 22, 2013 – Consumer attitudes toward proteins shows a relationship between protein consumption and nutrition and health. “According to a 2012 IFIC survey, consumers see a tight connection between protein and muscle-building, and body-building supplements have helped promote this link,” said Tom Vierhile, Innovation Insights Director for Datamonitor, in the keynote presentation “Muscling to the Top: Insights, Growth, and the Promise of Protein.”. “Athletes and teens are seen as most likely to benefit from higher levels of protein, while the need for older consumers to consume protein to maintain muscle mass is not understood,” he added.

Proteins are the second-most plentiful substance in the body, after water, and are comprised of 20 different amino acids linked together in different combinations. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body, therefore need to be consumed. Complete proteins, such as meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs and cheese, provide all essential amino acids. Recommended amounts for protein vary by age, from 13g per day for young children to 56g per day for men beyond age 70, noted Vierhile.

Consumers do not associate protein with weight gain, even though all sources of calories play an equal role. Instead, consumers view sugar, carbohydrates and fats as the primary drivers of weight gain. Protein’s healthy halo is attracting consumer attention. Interest in protein has grown quickly, and consumers are seeking out high-protein products. Some 33% of shoppers in the “Shopping for Health 2012” survey, conducted by Rodale Inc., Prevention magazine and the Food Marketing Institute, say protein content is of concern to them when they read product labels, according to Vierhile. Recently, a link between the consumption of a high-protein breakfast and appetite control has emerged; this may shift the focus on satiety-related products toward breakfast.

The popularity of plant protein sources appears to be rising. Data from SPINSscan Natural (52 weeks ending January 19, 2013) shows that nut butters and nuts are among the top-growing categories in natural supermarkets. Plant protein health links are becoming more overt; for example, Planter’s Nutrition is touted as an “Energy Mix” for energy enhancement. Pea proteins could also be the next big thing, with more products using it and advertising the fact. Economics is likely playing a part in the popularity of plant protein relative to animal-based proteins, with low-income households, younger consumers, Hispanics and obese consumers all stating that protein is too expensive.

“Protein health claims had declined over the past few years but are rebounding,” Vierhile explained. Outside of meat substitutes, dairy products, like Greek yogurt, dominate the “high-protein” claims list, with breakfast foods rising, as well. Meat snacks are still a big trend, now reaching a new generation of consumers with innovative jerky products. SymphonyIRI data shows double-digit sales grown in both 2011 and 2012 for jerky. Vierhile profiled a number of significant new products, such as Archer Farms’ High Protein Cinnamon Cereal, Protein Ketchup, IPS Egg White Chips and ProYo High Protein Frozen Yogurt.

Marketing Protein Types
The big trend in protein right now may be plant proteins, but whey, while at times more expensive, has a huge advantage, since plant proteins are generally not as nutritionally complete. A big opportunity exists to educate consumers on the role of dairy proteins, Vierhile advised. The key is to get the message right. Knowing the protein source is vital, with consumers reading labels and wanting more details on the products they consume. For example, some whey-containing products promote that the whey is obtained from grass-fed cows, promising traceable milk while being free from hormones, like rBST and rBGH.

Vierhile predicted that local, artisan protein products could be one growth area; one such example is Wisconsin-based tera’s whey protein, made in small batches.
Another area of opportunity lies with whey protein from goat’s milk, which is said to be easier to digest for some people than whey from cow’s milk. And, concerns about food allergies and sensitivities could change the protein future market. Food allergies among young people rose 18% for the decade ended in 2007. What could be next: an emphasis on allergen-free protein?

Vierhile also said evidence is emerging that sarcopenia, the age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass and function, can accurately predict future mortality in middle-aged and older adults. Protein consumption by older consumers is not where it should be in order to help delay the effects of sarcopenia. Packaged foods and beverages targeted to at-risk, older consumers are generally few and far between, yet 27% of seniors in the U.S. are not consuming the amount of protein they need to maintain health, he added. This, too, opens an area for growth.

With consumers gaining insights into the health benefits of proteins, and companies using proteins as a way to differentiate their products, the future is promising for this dietary component.

Tom Vierhile, Innovation Insights Director for Datamonitor Consumer, can be contacted at +1.585.396.5128 or Followed him on Twitter at @TomVierhile. 

The summary above is an excerpt from the “2013 Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar Magazine.”