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Consumers Increasing Protein Intake

06 April 2015

As consumers are faced with conflicting dietary advice, especially where fats and carbohydrates are concerned, protein has emerged as the "feel-good" macronutrient.

New research from Mintel shows how consumers around the world are turning to it in order to help lose or maintain their weight.

Proving protein is more than just a fad, the Mintel study looks at four key consumer markets - China, UK, US and Germany.

The findings show that a significant number of consumers were increasing their protein intake in 2014 compared to the previous year.

As many as a quarter of consumers in China (26 per cent) and the US (25 per cent) said they were eating more protein than the year before, while a smaller, but still significant proportion of UK (13 per cent) and German (12 per cent) consumers claimed to have upped their protein intake.

High protein claims have continued to increase in food and drink launches over the past five years.

The percentage of global food and drink products making a high protein claims increased 17 per cent between 2010 and 2014.

Stephanie Mattucci, Global Food Science Analyst at Mintel, said: “It seems that protein is the latest unexplored area of a food product’s nutritional statement.

“Protein is no longer a fad, high protein diets and products have made a real impression on nutrition, re-shaping consumers’ attitudes towards protein in their diet.

“The desire for more health benefits from food and drink products has led to a boom for products that boast high protein content.”

Protein Key Ingredient of Interest for Weight-conscious Consumers.

Consumers were asked why they had increased their protein intake over the past year.

Of the consumers eating more protein, around half of Chinese (51 per cent), UK (47 per cent) and US (46 per cent) consumers said they were doing so to help maintain a healthy weight, followed by 39 per cent of German consumers.

Meanwhile, some 47 per cent of Germans, and 42 per cent of UK consumers who had increased their protein consumption, had done so in order to help them lose weight, together with 38 per cent of US consumers and 23 per cent of Chinese consumers.

Furthermore, some 43 per cent of US, 34 per cent of Chinese, 31 per cent of UK and 25 per cent of German consumers who were consuming more protein were doing so in order to satisfy their appetite.

“In 2014, much emphasis was placed on the global overweight or obese population, protein has earned a role for promoting weight loss and weight control because of its links to satiety, which helps consumers feel fuller longer,” Ms Mattucci said.

“This message is easily understood and resonates very well amongst most consumers.

“Mainstream high protein products are starting to adopt more sophisticated messaging around protein, typically reserved for traditional high protein supplements. For instance the quality of proteins are being talked about more, with references to the ‘completeness’ of proteins, the presence of essential amino acids, and the digestibility of the protein.

“Opportunities exist for products to better tailor their high protein message to align with consumers specific needs, such as maintaining muscle mass as they age or assisting with weight loss goals.”

Eating Protein in Smaller Amounts

There has been a growing focus on eating proteins in smaller amounts throughout the day, and as a result protein usage has increased in both snacks, cereal and energy bars and spoonable yoghurt categories.

Looking at food and drink product launches with a high protein claim in 2014, the top five sub - categories which are most likely to contain protein are

  1. Snack, cereal and energy bars (14 per cent)
  2. Meal replacements and other drinks (11 per cent)
  3. Spoonable yogurt (9 per cent)
  4. Meat snacks (4 per cent) and
  5. Meat substitutes (3 per cent).

“As the application and use of protein continues to grow, attention has shifted to when protein is consumed and the type of protein consumers are eating,” Ms Mattucci said.

“Research continues to support spreading protein more evenly over a whole day, as it is the pattern of protein intake rather than total daily amount that impacts protein metabolism, positively affecting muscle protein synthesis.

“This should encourage the inclusion of high protein ingredients into breakfast and snack products to help consumers spread their protein intake throughout the day.”

Novel Protein Sources

The focus on protein has seen an emergence of more plant-based proteins.

In line with consumers efforts to cut back their red meat intake and adopt a more plant-based diet, the use of, and demand for, non-meat sources of protein continues to grow.

Looking globally, this latest research finds as many as 40 per cent of Chinese consumers are eating non-animal sources of protein, this if followed by three in ten (29 per cent) US consumers, a quarter (26 per cent) of German consumers and 18 per cent of British consumers.

Across Europe, consumers are actively reducing or avoiding red meat, during 2014 almost four in 10 (38 per cent) Italians claimed they were reducing or avoiding red meat, this was followed by a third (33 per cent) of consumers in France and Germany and three in ten (30 per cent) in Spain.

Indeed, comparing the number of consumers across Europe reducing or avoiding their consumption of red meat, against the number of actual vegetarians (5 per cent in Germany, 4 per cent in Spain, 7 per cent in Germany and 8 per cent in Italy) reflects an interest in flexitarian diets and demonstrates how plant-based proteins can contribute to a healthy and sustainable diet.

“Many consumers are shying away from animal-based proteins sources and as a result, various proteins sources are emerging. Foods, such as ancient grains, chia seeds and pulses, are being looked at and utilized for their high protein content.” Ms Mattucci added.

Insects have also started to appear in various products which have been launched across the globe, however, this latest research finds that there appears to be limited interest in trying insect protein.

Indeed, some 79 per cent of German consumers said they have not eaten insect protein and are not interested in trying it, followed by 74 per cent of US consumers and 73 per cent of UK consumers.

What is more, only 21 per cent of German, 26 per cent of US consumers and 27 per cent of UK would be interested in trying insect sourced protein.

Overall, insect proteins are viewed most favourably in China, where less than half (48 per cent) of consumers said they had not eaten insect protein and were not interested in trying it and over half (52 per cent) said they would be interested in trying it.

And just as Western consumers are the most put off by insect proteins, other novel protein sources face similar challenges.

Indeed, some 56 per cent of UK consumers, 54 per cent of US consumers and 42 per cent of German consumers say they have not eaten marine source protein, such as algae, and claim not to be interested in trying it.

By contrast in China, only 4 per cent of consumers said they were not interested in marine source protein with as many as 71 per cent of Chinese consumers having already tried marine-sourced proteins.

“Insects are very nutritious, high in protein, vitamins, fibre and minerals. While various insect based products have been launched across the globe, this research shows that novel protein sources will be challenged by Western consumers’ unwillingness to try them” Ms Mattucci concluded.

March 2015

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