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    Packing a Punch

    Consumers? push for protein provides opportunity for grocery retailers.

    By Kathleen Furore

    ?Protein is on fire!?

    In four short words, Chuck Walkley, CEO of Oviedo, Fla.-based New Whey Nutrition, sums up the state of the protein market today.

    ?Everybody is seeking out more protein ? consumers are more educated about it than they were 20 years ago,? says Walkley whose company makes NuAquos, a drink with 12 grams of complete protein, plus other health and fitness drinks. ?If a package says ?protein,? it sells.?

    That?s good news for food retailers, since so many of the products they already carry, as well as myriad new items hitting store shelves, boast protein-rich profiles.

    ?Focusing on protein can be a point of differentiation for retailers,? Walkley stresses. ?The segment is growing, and protein-based products are outpacing food and beverage growth.?

    Darren Seifer, a food and beverage analyst with The NPD Group, in Port Washington, N.Y., and co-author of NPD?s ?Protein Perceptions and Needs? report, released in March 2014, agrees that promoting protein can provide a competitive edge.

    ?It is important for food and beverage marketers to highlight, wherever possible, that their products are a good source of lean protein,? Seifer says, noting that nearly half of primary grocery shoppers surveyed have purchased protein-enriched foods, and many are willing to pay, or have already paid, a premium for these products.

    Why Protein?

    The bottom line is that protein is an essential dietary component of a healthy life.

    Proteins are the building blocks for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood, as well as for enzymes, hormones and vitamins. In addition, protein-rich foods contain B vitamins that help the body release energy, play a vital role in the function of the nervous system, aid in the formation of red blood cells and help build tissues

    As consumers become more educated about health and wellness, they?re turning toward protein, statistics show. According to The NPD Group/Dieting Monitor, 24.9 percent of adult consumers cited protein in 2013 when asked, ?What do you usually look for on the Nutrition Facts label?? That number was up from 18.1 percent in 2004.

    But although most consumers know protein is an essential component of a healthy diet (more than three-quarters of primary grocery shoppers say protein contributes to a healthy diet, according to NPD), almost as many say they?re unsure how much protein they should consume on a daily basis.

    The Harvard School of Public Health?s Institute of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day, which equates to about 8 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight.

    With so many products to choose from (all foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds are considered part of the protein food group), meeting that minimum can be as simple as selecting the right snacks. As celebrity trainer and nutritionist Harley Pasternak says, there are several lean, no-cook protein snacks customers can turn to: sliced turkey, nonfat Greek yogurt, canned lentils, peanuts and meat products such as Oberto?s beef jerky with 20 grams of protein per serving.

    A Market on the Rise

    If there?s any doubt about protein?s place in today?s food and beverage marketplace, industry data should quell it.

    According to Mintel research released in January 2013, introductions of foods and drinks that make a high-protein claim were almost three times higher in the United States than anywhere else in the world, accounting for 19 percent of global new product launches in 2012. That makes the United States the biggest market by far for high-protein products, according to the Chicago-based market research firm.

    ?Protein awareness is higher and more sought after by U.S. consumers than elsewhere in the world, and the opportunity exists for value brands to add cost-effective protein to products to entice a larger consumer segment,? Nirvana Chapman, Mintel?s global food science trend analyst, said when the research came out. ?Americans are looking for protein to aid in satiety, weight management, and to boost muscle recovery and build muscle after a workout, making protein appeal to a broad audience in a great number of usage occasions.?

    Foods making high-protein claims span a wide array of categories that go beyond naturally protein-rich foods such as meat, poultry and fish. Snacks, for example, dominate the category, accounting for 20 percent of the high-protein food and drink new product launches in the United States in 2012, followed by meal replacement and other fortified drinks (17 percent), and spoonable yogurt (15 percent), Mintel notes.

    What Consumers Want

    Victor Zaborsky, marketing director for the Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP), based in Washington, D.C., points out that protein is a highly sought-after nutrient. ?According to a recent survey, 50 percent of Americans are trying to get more in their diet,? Zaborsky says, citing statistics from the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) 2014 Food and Health Survey.

    The majority of U.S. consumers ? an impressive 78 percent ? agree that protein contributes to a healthy diet, and are open to finding protein from a variety of sources, NPD reports. About half of consumers consider non-meat sources to be the best, while the other half consider meat and fish the best sources of protein, according to NPD?s ?Protein Perceptions and Needs? report.

    ?The only issue that U.S. adults are now checking on the Nutrition Facts label on the back of foods and beverages is the amount of protein,? says Harry Balzer, NPD?s chief industry analyst and author of its ?Eating Patterns in America? report. ?While our interest in protein is growing, we?re looking for alternatives to meat. Many of us are looking to lower the cost of our protein sources, and animal meat is generally more expensive than plant-based protein, which explains the growth in Greek yogurt and other alternate protein sources.?

    Health concerns are motivating those consumers willing to look beyond meat to meet their protein needs, NPD research reveals.

    ?The reasons often mentioned by ?Flexible Protein Users? as barriers to getting more protein are that many sources of protein contain fat, are high in calories or are too expensive,? NPD reports. Those characteristics, according to the market research firm, are among perceived barriers that could be in play for the beef category, ?which is not seeing the same consumption increases seen with other protein sources like eggs, chicken, yogurt and nuts/seeds.

    ?The challenges for beef might be more about perception, since nearly half of primary grocery shoppers view animal protein as the best source of protein,? NPD says.

    Whichever protein-packed foods consumers choose, they?re clearly interested in buying more of it than ever before. By understanding the role protein plays in consumers? health, as well the types of foods they prefer, retailers can work with manufacturers to create merchandising and marketing programs that will increase sales of protein-rich products.

    ?Fifty percent of Americans are trying to get more protein in their diet.?
    ?Victor Zaborsky, MilkPEP

    By Kathleen Furore
    • About Kathleen Furore

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