It is no longer a fad; the high protein trend is gaining traction and will continue to evoke interest. In recent years, high protein diets and products have made a real impression on nutrition and are re-shaping consumers’attitudes towards protein on their food intake.
US and Europe are clearly ahead in protein consumption but consumers continue to remain interested in getting more protein into their diet. According to Innova Market Insights, this protein trend is driven by increasing health concerns primarily weight management. Protein is now sought after as a weight management ingredient that can induce satiety and help satisfy one’s appetite.
Protein has also helped transit sports and performance products into the mainstream, targeting at the general active consumers rather than the athletes specifically.
Though Asia Pacific (APAC) is currently lagging behind in terms of protein consumption, this emerging region is catching up fast. As reported by Euromonitor, an average global consumer buys 18g of protein per day through packaged food and drinks. There is significant regional variation, with Western Europe buying 49g, while in APAC it is only 9g. This suggests that there is a big potential in this region to provide more protein through packaged food and drinks which are healthy and convenient for the average consumer.
Mainstream consumers with differing needs
Protein has a broad appeal, it supports different health benefits across various age spectrum. If we look at the different age segments of the population, consumers need proteins for different reasons. For the aging consumers, consumption of protein is important to maintain lean body mass. For the active adults, it is about re-energising or weight management. And for the children, it is about bone and muscle development.
It is recommended to consume 0.8 to 1g of protein per kg of body weight, and most countries in APAC are way below that requirement. In Indonesia and India, the population consumes 56g. In Thailand and Philippines, they consume 57g and 59g respectively. Japan, Korea and Australia have higher consumption of proteins but even in these markets, significant opportunities lie in store for manufacturers who are innovative and target the most potential main stream segment, for example the aging population.
Discerning consumers are well aware of the health benefits that protein can provide. A recent Mintel study shows that between 25-35% of consumers in China, Germany, UK and the US consume proteins for its nutritional benefits such as building or maintaining muscle, losing weight or for satiety management. Australia and New Zealand are the two main countries driving high protein innovations in the APAC region. And the top three formats driving growth of high protein products are snacks/energy bars, meal replacements and spoonable yogurt.
With the global population projected to grow to 9 billion from 7 billion today, the resulting protein demand is projected to also double by 2050. Therefore, plant based alternatives is a necessary solution to feed the world.
The rising awareness about flexitarian diets has also resulted in greater interest in plant-based protein. A flexitarian diet is one that is plant-based with the occasional inclusion of meat products.
Soy is the most popular plant protein consumed in food and beverages and it is growing at a substantial rate. Plant-based protein sales (soy, wheat, pea, maize) have doubled to reach $18.8 billion in 2014. Of which, soy has been the leading driver of that trend. In APAC, the pre-dominant use of soy is in beverages and snacks.
Soy protein is increasingly popular because of its naturalness, benefits backed by science, superior cost-in-use, sustainability and broad application in many food and beverage formulations. In APAC, soy proteins were used in 40% of all new food and drink launches.
Plant proteins such as soy is widely used and accepted in Asia, especially in China. This is driven by soy’s long history of use. According to Mintel, soybean proteins, isolated soybean protein, and hydrolyzed soybean protein have been the top three soybean protein ingredients used globally in food and drink launches between 2012 and July 2015.
Tapping into the practical & proactive segment
Today, many food manufacturers use plant-based protein such as soy, as an alternative to dairy protein with better cost-in-use. Soy has many nutritional benefits which can be explored to possibly differentiate a brand in the marketplace with better product positioning on a natural health platform.
According to a DuPont proprietary consumer research, one of the emerging segments with great potential is the ‘Practical and Proactive’ consumer segment. A large pro-portion of this group of consumers has high levels of nutritional awareness, they are early adopters of nutritious food and select foods which promote good health. They are concerned about having a lack of energy, muscle and immune health and weight management. Soy proteins are well positioned to deliver benefits and meet many of the health concerns of this consumer segment.
As the trend for protein fortified foods continues to rise, many food formulators have conflicting mes-sages as to which protein is ‘the best’. There are many attributes to consider when choosing one or more protein sources to enrich a food with protein, such as functionality, sustainability, economics, as well as nutrition.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) Joint Expert Consultation’s Protein Quality Evaluation Report in 1991 recommended the protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS), which is a simple, scientific and rational procedure for assessing protein quality.
The PDCAAS values for isolated soy protein and other common proteins are shown in the figure below. These data show that soy protein achieves the maximum PDCAAS value of 1.00 and is deemed a complete protein.
Soy protein is a high quality, complete plant protein that is comparable to high quality animal protein (e.g. milk, eggs). Soy protein is unique in that it is the only source of vegetable protein widely available that has a PDCAAS value of 1.00.
Traditionally, protein is consumed to gain and build muscle mass. Its role is well established. The role of protein has now evolved from being a ‘fit-ness’ to ‘health and wellness’ ingredient. Today, consumers are discerning, adventurous and willing to try new protein ingredients. The familiarity of soy as an ingredient and its long existence in the Asian diet has helped in-crease the acceptance of soy in main stream products.
While it is clear that the high protein trend is set to grow in Asia with great opportunities, it is also critical for food manufacturers to pay attention to protein source and quality.