PG Web Extra: Protein, Present and Future


Among the current health and wellness food trends, protein is coming on strong.

As reported in PG’s Protein Report in the June 2015 issue, a recent Nielsen global health report found 30 percent of North American consumers rate “high in protein” attribute as very important in their purchasing decisions and 23 percent are willing to pay a premium for products that are high in protein. As a result, Nielsen reports, products with protein claims grew about 3 percent in dollars over the past year.

Nielsen also reported these sales trends among protein-related categories:

The meat department overall saw 7.3 percent dollar increase versus a year ago but volume is slightly declining (-0.5 percent). In the last 52 weeks, the department has had almost 8 percent average retail price increases. The trend is being driven by the fresh meat case, which makes up 63 percent of the meat department.  Fresh meat dollars have increased 8.1 percent (driven by a 9.8 percent increase in retail prices), resulting in a 1.5 percent decrease in volume.
Processed meat, which makes up about 27 percent of total meat department, has had a positive 6.3 percent dollar change and 2.1 percent volume change versus a year ago (average retail prices increasing 4.2 percent).

Among animal proteins in other departments:

Canned ham: Dollars were up 4.6 percent but units were down 9.1 percent
Shelf-stable meat: Dollars up 0.9 percent and volume down 3.8 percent
Frozen meat: Up 4.2 percent in dollars and down 2 percent in volume (frozen poultry down in dollars and volume 1.5 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively)
Seafood: Dollars up 4.8 percent but volume down 1.7 percent
Yogurt: Dollars increased 3 percent and units were slightly down at -0.6 percent
Eggs: Up 11.2 percent in dollars and 2.3 percent in units.

Among alternative proteins sold in produce and elsewhere: 

Tofu: Dollar sales increased 2.3 percent, volume sales increased 1.4 percent
Dry beans: Dollars sales decreased 2.5 percent, volume sales decreased 4.6 percent
Grains and dry beans (sold in center store): Dollars are up 0.8 percent but volume is down 2.3 percent
Lentils: Dollars sales increased 5.1 percent, volume sales increased 2.3 percent
Frozen edamame is down 0.3 percent in both dollars and volume

Sources: Nielsen FreshFacts Total U.S., Latest 52 Weeks Ending March 28, 2015; Nielsen Total U.S. - All Outlets Combined, plus Convenience Stores, 52 weeks ending March 28, 2015.

Snacks benefit from protein’s punch: Blurring of mealtimes benefits the category

Many CPG companies have added protein to their products as a way to benefit from the consumer interest in protein. Nondairy categories, such as granola bars, cereal, juice and juice drinks, plant-based beverages, pasta, and soup, to name just a few, have all added protein to their products to capture additional sales from consumers looking to add protein to their diets.

The snack category, in particular, is benefiting from a protein boost as snacking replaces traditional mealtimes for many consumers’ eating occasions.

“Protein-packed snack bars are a rising trend itself,” says Paige Pistone, senior brand manager for Ronkonkoma, N.Y.-based Balance Bar. “Through consumer data and research, we’ve found that consumers are looking for a snack that not only tastes great, but has the protein they need to stay satisfied.”

Pistone explains that Balance Bar products are based on the “40-30-30 principle”: 40 percent of total calories from carbohydrates, 30 percent from protein and 30 percent from dietary fat, for sustained, lasting energy. One of the company’s latest launches: Balance Bites, poppable snacks that offer 13 grams of protein for a between-meal boost.

“Nearly half of consumers snack at work, and 44 percent snack on-the-go,” says Pistone, citing a Mintel study. “So taking that into consideration, we found it crucial to develop a snack that delivers enough protein to satisfy hunger, but is also portable and easy to grab when rushing out the door.”

Of course, meat snacks — an old favorite — can easily boast of their rich protein content.

Seattle-based Oberto Brands delivers a message of “healthy protein snacking for active lifestyles” with its line of low-fat, low-calorie, all-natural jerky.

“Beef jerky is perhaps the only snack food with such a high concentration of protein, without other negative characteristics,” asserts David Lakey, the company’s SVP of marketing. “Non-meat snacks deliver some protein, but most of them contain very high levels of added sugar or fat.”

While some consumers are learning more about plant proteins, Lakey contends that “most grocery shoppers still enjoy the savory and delicious satisfaction from meat products.” He acknowledges the challenge of the meat snack industry “to overcome its ‘bubba’ image that has been marketed by legacy brands in the category, so that meat snacks can be relevant to newer, younger consumer segments.”

Oberto works with grocery retailers to drive sales for what’s primarily an impulse item. “Meat snacks are the fastest-growing, highest-ring and highest-dollar-margin snacks, and perhaps highest among all center store categories,” Lakey says.

“Historically, meat snacks have been an orphan category for grocers versus other snack segments, [and are] typically [placed] in obscure, small sections away from other snack departments, with haphazard racking, assortment and pricing,” he notes. “We are working with grocers to bring the discipline and strategy they’ve used for high-sugar snacks like protein bars and candy to the meat snacks business.”

Ingredient suppliers like AIDP Inc. are working with CPG companies to develop new plant-based products and expand their offerings of protein-rich foods.

“Health trends are pointing people in the direction of plant-based proteins. The perception of being better for you, and lower fat and cholesterol, is a big driving force,” points out Alan Rillorta, director of branded ingredient sales for City of Industry, Calif.-based AIDP, which offers plant proteins such rice and pea, as well as egg-white protein.

“It’s not just about the nutritional and health benefits. Pricing is a big deal,” Rillorta asserts. “Plant-based proteins are much more economical in general, and we’re seeing increases in demand, and opening more demographics: vegetarians, elderly, children, athletes. The beauty is that it is very versatile for [all] ages, health conditions and dietary restrictions.”

The future of protein: Industry players weigh in on the outlook for animal-based and other products

Looking beyond, PG asked leaders in retail, trade and CPG circles about their thoughts for the future of protein in consumers’ diets.

Kelly Mortensen, meat director for Salt Lake City-based Associated Food Stores, says consumers “still have a love relationship with beef, but it is wavering.  Price is the major deterrent.” Pork is a great alternative, he asserts, “and some consumers are replacing beef consumption with pork due to price.” Poultry is “winning the protein race and … is also more versatile to prepare than both pork and beef, which is an advantage as well.

“Lamb could be a sleeper, but consumers are just not embracing that protein. It has the best story to tell for animal agriculture in many aspects. It has the best animal-handling practices, best environmental impact and excellent nutritional aspects,” adds Mortensen.

The best current trend to embrace? Natural, organics and grass-fed. Notes Mortensen: “Although there is no science substantiating the health benefits of these products, it isn’t acknowledged by those consumers, and they want them with a vengeance. It is the fastest-growing segment in protein, and there is not enough out there to satisfy their needs.”

Patrick Fleming, director of retail marketing for the Des Moines, Iowa-based National Pork Board, is enthusiastic for the future, declaring: “Consumers love the taste of fresh meat.”

He continues, “With a resurgence in home-cooked meals and moderating pork prices, we expect demand for fresh pork to grow. As an industry, we need to be vigilant in educating consumers on how to shop for and prepare fresh meat so they continue to purchase our products. Additionally, much of our future depends on how well we engage Millennials. They need to be educated, and need to be reminded to use pork and other fresh meats as the centerpiece of their meal solutions.”

Jim Rogers, VP of sales and marketing for the Arkansas City, Kan.-based meat supplier Creekstone Farms, notes that Americans are becoming increasingly more educated on the foods they buy, and this higher level of knowledge will continue to cause their purchasing behaviors to evolve.

“We already see this today, with the continued expansion of natural and organic protein options in mainstream retailers,” Rogers says. “These same retailers had a handful of natural proteins, mainly ground beef, only a couple years ago. Now they have 15 to 20 items ranging from ground beef, to case-ready cut steaks and roasts. This trend toward more increased protein variety and appealing to a more educated consumer will continue, and what used to be seen as ‘specialty’ or ‘niche’ will continue to become more mainstream.”

Rogers doesn’t expect these items to take over the conventional meat case. “However, we do envision that these programs appeal to a consumer that is willing to spend more for what they want, and that marketing to this consumer will be a growth catalyst for the retailer that embraces them and meets their needs,” he says.

Additional focus will be placed on making preparation simple, Rogers says. “Today’s GenX and GenY consumers do not know how to prepare beef and pork products.  Meeting the needs of these shoppers will be critical to keeping them in the meat case,” he says, predicting continued expansion of  ready-to-cook products, smaller packs, education and recipe ideas.

“As consumers become more educated about proteins, we are hearing more and more questions like ‘Where do these proteins come from?’ and ‘Are these proteins refined and naturally occurring, or are they highly processed?’ Consumers will continue to demand less-processed, close-to-natural-state proteins. They are also becoming educated that all sources of proteins are not the same, so they are becoming more selective about the type of proteins they are seeking out.”

Tripp Hughes, director of brand management at La Farge, Wis.-based CROPP/Organic Valley, notes that with an increasing number of consumers looking to add more protein to their diets, the ongoing demand for protein-rich foods will continue to influence product development.

“Food companies will likely work to meet this demand by introducing even more ‘high-protein’ products,” he says, citing Mintel data showing 26 percent of all product launches in 2014 were labeled “high-protein,” up from 24 percent in 2013 and 15 percent in 2010, and up 70 percent in the dairy category since 2012-13.

Rebekah Lyle, director of marketing and innovation at Broomfield, Colo.-based WhiteWave Foods, notes the value of animal proteins like dairy because they supply all of the essential amino acids the body needs to build and maintain muscle.

“From a research perspective, new filtration technologies have enabled processors to develop customized products for use in beverage, yogurt and other formulated food products (e.g., higher in protein, lower in fat, lower in lactose),” she says. “Additional thermal processing technologies allow manufacturers to extend the shelf life of their products for greater distribution.”

The Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center and Institute for Dairy Ingredient Processing are conducting research to understand how the inherent functional and sensory properties of dairy may be used to create clean-label food products, which appeal to Millennials, says Mary Wilcox, a vice president for the Midwest Dairy Association.

“Ongoing clinical nutrition research in the areas of dairy and whey protein continue. Some of the potential benefits may include: maintaining a healthy weight, curbing hunger, getting lean, enhancing exercise recovery and reducing muscle loss with aging,” she says. “Consequently, by delivering nutrition, taste and convenience to consumers, dairy and whey protein have a bright future and many more product opportunities ahead.”

With increased competition in the milk case from plant-based beverages and value-added milks, milk processors are beginning to utilize protein messaging on their packages, notes Cindy Sorensen, VP of business development at MDA. “We also are seeing increased advertising by milk processors making use of the protein message in their ad campaigns. As we know, consumer awareness of protein in milk is low, and other categories have taken advantage of the fact that consumers want protein and have added it to their products,” she says. “Milk processors have ground to make up to communicate to consumers that milk naturally contains 8 grams of protein.”

Consumer education also is a goal for the Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP), according to VP Victor Zaborsky. “We know that many Americans don’t realize milk’s full nutritional contributions, so we are dedicated to bridging that gap with out-of-the-box thinking, disruptive marketing programs and a commitment to shake things up,” he says.

“We believe protein will continue to capture consumer interest – and milk, in particular, is a strong opportunity in the dairy aisle – with many options – at all fat levels, organic or non-organic, regular or flavored and even new enhanced/value-added options – milk continues to deliver on protein. We anticipate the demand for high-quality protein to continue and we know that milk can deliver. While soy and almond drinks try to engineer products that are close to milk, few can match the full nutrient package found naturally in milk.”

To capitalize on this growing protein trend, MilkPEP’s multiyear, multichannel Milk Life campaign is supported by TV, print and digital advertising, consumer and retail promotions, public relations and social media.

Kevin Burkum, SVP at the Chicago-based American Egg Board, believes that despite the rise in demand for plant-based proteins, “there will always be a role for animal protein in the diet as it delivers a higher quality of protein along with iron and various other essential vitamins and minerals.

On the plant side, Nancy Chapman, executive director of the Soyfoods Association of North America, says: “As long as adults are focused on retention of muscle mass and weight management, they will turn to foods high in protein. Many are looking at plant sources of protein, and soy is unique as the only plant protein with all amino acids in the quantities needed to support human growth and development.”

Turners Falls, Mass.-based Lightlife has been creating meatless protein products since 1979, aiming to make plant-based eating more accessible with a variety of meatless solutions for all diets. The company’s products are make from plant proteins like soy, quinoa, peas, rice and beans.

“With 36 percent of consumers using meat alternatives, we’re excited to offer more delicious, healthy plant-based options packed with flavor and protein, but saturated fat and cholesterol free,” Lightlife Director of Marketing Brad Lahrman says, citing Mintel research.

Lightlife launched three new products at Natural Products Expo West last March: Smart Patties, veggie burgers available in Original with Quinoa and Black Bean varieties; and Smart Sausage in Harvest Apple.  

Certified vegan and Non-GMO Project Verified, Smart Patties weigh in at 100 calories each, with 10 grams of protein and 3 to 4 grams of fiber per patty, while the Smart Sausages deliver 16 grams of protein per serving.

Mike Anderson, founder and president of Lewiston, Idaho-based 13 Foods, which markets frozen beans and chickpeas, expects the increased demand for plant proteins to continue, “now that they are available in a wide array of high-quality, ready-to-use formats.”

Anderson notes that, with the United Nations designating 2016 as the “Year of Pulses” – pulses being beans, chickpeas, and lentils – “there is going to be a large marketing push throughout North America creating consumer awareness of all the positive impacts that beans, chickpeas, and lentils have on our food supply. They are among the most sustainable foods in the world and are truly the future of food, for the betterment of nutrition, food security and food supply.”

Read more in PG’s Protein Report in the June 2015 issue.

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