Emerging health concerns could cast shadow on protein, but for now ingredient shines

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Health concerns cast a shadow on protein but for now ingredient shines

Related tags Protein Nutrition

The health halo around protein continues to shine brightly, but a shadow could be cast on the ingredient as some consumers start asking if it is possible to have too much protein, according to a market research expert. 

The “super core”​ set of health and wellness consumers are starting to wonder if the high amount of protein that people are eating could be detrimental to the functioning of their bodies and in particular their kidneys, Laurie Demeritt, CEO of The Hartman Group, told FoodNavigator-USA.

She was quick to point out, however, that these early rumblings have “nothing to do with science necessarily,”​ but rather are “totally based on what we have heard from those very engaged health and wellness consumers.”

She also emphasized that these initial consumer sentiments are not something that manufacturers need to address immediately, but “everyone needs to be aware that this idea exists out there and we should be prepared if we start hearing some of that from more engaged consumers, who eventually have influence on the mainstream consumers as well.”

She recommends manufacturers that want to plan ahead consider how else they can promote high protein products if, in time, the ingredient’s health halo diminishes.

“I would start thinking about what are the other benefits of my product beyond just the protein. … There are other unique strengths and benefits that can be promoted,”​ such as other key nutrients, or the products’ reduced impact on the environment, she said.

Plant-based protein shines strong

Despite this concern on the distant horizon, for now protein continues to reign supreme – especially alternative protein sources, Demeritt said.

She explained that consumers are drawn to plant-based proteins for two main reasons – neither of which is altruistic concern for animals.

“People are saying that they would like to find new, different ways of incorporating non-meat based protein into their diet number one because they are fun, interesting and add more variety,” ​Demeritt said.

She added that many vegetable proteins pull from other cultures, with new flavors and formats that consumers want to explore.

The other main reason consumers are seeking plant protein is because of health implications, Demeritt said. “Consumers are saying, if I eat a lot of meat for protein then maybe I am getting a lot of saturated fat or sodium or other things that are not great for me.”

She also noted that consumers see plant protein as having more nutrient density.

Animal-based proteins still desirable by some

Consumer interest in plant-protein “is not to say we are all becoming vegetarians by any stretch of the imagination,”​ Demeritt said.

But, she noted, consumers who eat meat are becoming more selective about the quality, which they are linking to animal welfare.

“Animal welfare is a hot button issue right now, but not necessarily because people don’t want to consume animals. Rather, it is about if you are going to consume animals ensuring that the supply chain production is done responsibly … because they believe if care was taken its going to result in a better quality end product,”​ she said.

“So, if that chicken was free-range or the cow was grass fed then that probably is going to mean the product will taste better and be better for them,”​ she added.

Marketing priorities

To ensure the most impact from marketing related to protein, Demeritt says firms should go beyond basic claims about grams per serving – although these are effective.

“If you have only so many marketing dollars to spend … I would probably tell consumers something that was unique and defensible about my particular protein, such as where it comes from or if it is cleaner than other sources,”​ she said.

She added marketing claims also will vary based on the product and source, but effective messages that resonate well with consumers continue to be energy management, satiety and muscle-building.

For more consumer insights about protein and the ingredient’s long-term viability as a selling-feature, tune in for our FREE webinar on the ingredient Nov. 4. Register quickly and easily HERE​.

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