Dairy created the protein growth trend, beginning around 25 years ago and accelerating from 2010. Dairy has multiple advantages as a protein source, including:
- Natural and logical source of protein in the mind of the consumer
- Versatility – lots of convenient and good-tasting ways to deliver protein
- Connects to “permission to indulge” through creamy textures and endless taste possibilities
- Versatile ingredient – dairy protein can easily be added to other product types, from bars to beverages
To this list marketers must now add 'highest quality protein', which is dairy's big - and so far untapped - competitive advantage.
The story of dairy protein is the story of taking what was, 30 years ago, a waste product, mostly used for animal feed, and upcycling it to be one of the most valuable and sought-after human food ingredients. As a result of the steady growth in the scientific evidence for protein's benefits, protein is connected in consumers’ minds with weight wellness, a healthy body shape and increasingly with other benefits. With its natural, positive and easy-to-understand image, demand for dairy protein is set to continue growing. Dairy has already shown how protein is valued by consumers in products positioned for health and also in ice-cream and indulgent yoghurts, where it provides ‘permission to indulge’.
However, consumers at present think about quantity rather than quality. That isn't surprising, since protein quality has not formed any part of any dairy company's marketing.
Dairy is a high-quality protein. Most plant proteins, by contrast, are incomplete. Many have the full breadth of amino-acids, but they do not have the depth that dairy does. Plant proteins are insoluble - meaning difficult for your body to absorb. Dairy proteins are soluble, meaning you can get more health value from a smaller quantity of protein. Why, after all, would you consume a product with 10g of pea protein if you knew you could get more benefit from 5g of dairy protein? Dairy protein also comes with a natural package of important nutrients, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, CLA and zinc, which are absent from most plant protein foods.
Up to now, marketers have steered away from communicating protein quality, but that is changing. One of the pioneers is US yoghurt giant Chobani. Its Complete range of yogurts is targeted at consumers who have an active interest in nutrition and fitness. Complete is the pioneer in communicating the quality protein message to this influential consumer group. People into sports and fitness are early-adopters of new benefits which will help them perform at their best. Once this group adopts an idea it then spreads out to the wider population. This is how today’s dairy protein market was created. Complete’s communications underscore dairy protein’s “advanced nutrition” value, explaining amino acids and the meaning of complete protein. In 2021 the brand earned year 1 sales of $34.1 million, according to IRI data.
The message about protein quality will be one of the most important trend drivers of this decade. But as you know, there are many other growth trends. Here is an overview of NNB’s 10 key consumer trends which we believe will be the most important in 2023:
1. Carbs - Better, Fewer, Greener: The prospects are good for companies in carbohydrate categories, thanks to their ability to reinvent products and stay relevant to consumers evolving needs - from incorporating more vegetables, more protein or more healthy grains. The economic challenges of the next 3-5 years will see more people turn to pasta, bread and other foods which are comforting, familiar and affordable.
2. Digestive Wellness Diversifies: Around a third of consumers experience digestive discomfort at any one time and seeking digestive wellness is a strong consumer motivation, particularly among the over-40s, seniors and women. Thanks to innovation by our industry there are at least nine routes to wellness people that to choose from, including probiotics and fermentation, high fibre, gluten free, and lactose free.
3. Plants Made Convenient: Consumers continue to want to incorporate plants into their diet as much as possible, and are looking for brands to make this easy for them to achieve.
4. Animal Protein Powers On: The desire for more plants in their diet, doesn’t mean consumers are necessarily cutting out meat or dairy. There is - as explained above - huge potential to leverage the natural advantages of animal protein to deliver continuing long term growth.
5. Sweetness Reinvented: Brands are getting creative in addressing consumers sugar concerns while also delivering on their desire for sweetness. Reduced and no sugar is still a powerful message, but consumers are still looking for moments of pure indulgence too, where they are happy to embrace high sugar products.
6. The Plant Protein Paradox: While there is still strong consumer interest in plant protein, there are taste, technical and nutritional challenges. That is what has caused the growth in plant-based meat substitutes to stall - and in the US to fall by 12% in 2022. Plant-based cheese has also stalled. The opportunity is for science based companies to do a better job of delivering on nutrition and taste.
7. Rethinking Fat: Consumers are becoming more knowledgeable on how various fats differ. High fat is not necessarily a negative, but consumers want to know if it’s a good fat source, and ift it’s natural.
8. Mood and Mind: The link between food and emotional wellbeing is interesting consumers, but technically it's challenging for brands making such claims to deliver a benefit that consumers can feel. Some foods, like chocolate, don’t even need to make a claim, as consumers instinctively know to turn to them for a mood boost.
9. Real Food and The UPF Challenge: There is a growing appetite for ‘real food’ with concern around Ultra-Processed Foods (UPF). Consumers are looking for short ingredient lists of ingredients they recognise. As with the emergence of the Mediterranean diet, southern Europe is leading this trend.
10. Provenance and Authenticity: As well as wanting to know what is in their food, consumers want to know where it is from. For many this means they want products that are local to them, but even for products that can’t be sourced locally they still want details on its specific source.
This blog contains material and information intended for B2B customers, suppliers and distributors, and is not intended as information to the final consumers.