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Protein has long been a buzzword in the world of food and drink. Thanks to its associations with a nutritious diet, fine food products are proud to tout high protein claims. And instead of fizzling out after just a few years, the protein trend has only grown for the past decade alongside the unstoppable rise of the vegan diet.
From naturally high-protein foods such as nuts or Greek yoghurt to cereals, breakfast bars and drinks enhanced with added protein, consumers are keen to explore this sector – especially since the Covid pandemic struck.
“A greater awareness of how diet-related diseases might put individuals at risk [of having severe complications from Covid-19] will prompt more consumers to pay attention to nutrition,” Mintel’s report, Protein and Produce in a Post-Covid-19 World, explains. “Proteins and produce will play roles as important sources of the nutrients bodies need to keep the immune system at full strength.”
The protein category is experiencing a swift change in direction. In The Future of Animal Proteins and Meat Alternatives, a 2020 report by Mintel, experts predicted that consumers would be able to meet their protein needs from a wide variety of sources, including plants like beans and fungi, meat substitutes, and animal proteins, within five years.
Alternative meat, which includes plant-based and lab-grown meat substitute products, is a fast-growing sector. According to Research and Markets, the global plant-based protein market is expected to grow from $10.3 billion in 2020 to $14.5 billion in 2025 thanks to innovation and growing demand.
New products are making use of plant-based ingredients, such as grains and legumes, like peas, or even marine plants such as seaweeds and other algae.
As the appeal of protein sees renewed interest thanks to Covid-19 and the vegan trend, new product launches have continued to make use of demand for high-protein claims – for example, speciality flour maker Doves Farm has launched high-protein flours to target home bakers looking for products with strong health credentials.
The protein craze has also led to the rise of the chickpea from simple legume to superfood status. Whole Foods Market’s Trends Council predicted that 2021 would see a rise in demand for chickpeas. “You can chickpea anything,” the group said in its 2021 trends report. “The time has come to think beyond hummus and falafel, and even chickpea pasta. Rich in fibre and plant-based protein, chickpeas are the new cauliflower.” Today, consumers can buy chickpea tofu, cereal, and rice – and thanks to the brand Fabalous, even a chickpea-based, Nutella-like chocolate spread. The spread boasts chickpea as its main ingredient, which it says boosts protein content by 81%.
If retailers weren’t already convinced by the protein trend, now is the time to get on board. As Food Ingredients Europe’s report Global Consumer Trends in the Protein Market says, “Whilst active gym goers will continue to be a core audience for high protein products, the mainstream evolution of high protein products – including alternative protein sources – will be driven by two key consumer groups.” These include ‘active nutrition consumers’ who take a proactive approach to health, and ‘healthy and sustainably minded consumers’ who are following vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian diets. For retailers, this means targeting these fast-growing consumer groups through a range of high-protein products that don’t compromise on quality or taste.