Using storytelling to connect with consumers

Consumer research shows that the motivations behind young shoppers’ purchases are evolving all the time. By understanding why whey protein products appeal to this new generation of consumers, your brand can tell stories that truly connect.

Peter Wennström
Peter Wennström Founder & Senior Consultant, Healthy Marketing Team
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Published: Apr. 16. 2020

Young consumers face daily dilemmas around the impact of their food choices, with their decisions increasingly made on the basis of two important themes: health and environmental sustainability.

For whey protein brands, understanding how these issues affect your target consumers is the first step to ensuring your products are telling stories that connect.

The Healthy Marketing Team is a group of consultants specializing in food and health innovation, marketing and branding. For our Global Game Changers 2020 report, we took a deep dive into issues facing Millennial and Generation Z consumers.

Firstly, we identified six overarching ‘GameChanger’ themes. Some were focused on the rising importance of active nutrition through food or the scientific aspects of targeted nutrition. Others covered sustainability and production methods. We also looked at the impact of technology on lifestyles – driving an increase in snacking, for example – and the more inclusive approach to nutrition, such as twentysomethings’ increasing interest in healthy aging.

We know that whey protein is a performance-driven product, connecting into consumers’ desire for active and targeted nutrition, as well as a popular option for convenient but satisfying snacks. But to tell stories that will forge a meaningful bond with your target consumers, gaining a greater understanding of these shoppers’ true motivations is vital. 

To drill deeper into what drives their purchasing decisions, we worked with Lund University in Sweden to carry out cultural consumer research. We found that there are a variety of potential narratives that can be utilized. 

These fall into four categories:

SELF This is all about self-care: your health, your beauty, your indulgence. It’s all about ‘you’.

SCIENCE This category is focused on facts and precision. To appeal to the science-driven consumer, companies can tell stories that go into every little detail of their product, stacking up its particular performance advantages to ensure it stands apart.

HERITAGE Heritage-driven consumers look to the past, seeking out products with strong ties to nature and tradition. Production values are important to these shoppers – they are more likely to seek out milk from grass-fed cows, for example.

ETHICS Consumers motivated by ethics are more likely to reject products they see as environmentally unsustainable or that raise animal welfare concerns. Shoppers in this segment may lean towards plant-based products.

Of course, whey protein now has appeal far beyond bodybuilders and athletes. It’s also popular among those seeking to enjoy a quick-and-easy meal replacement, lose weight, or boost protein intake to improve other aspects of health. Even so, for many whey protein consumers, the importance of the product benefit remains the key.

As such, whey protein products are a straightforward fit for the ‘self’ category because many consumers’ focus is on muscle strength or other health benefits. Companies can connect with these shoppers by creating compelling narratives around the possibilities for self-improvement.

Whey protein also provides ample opportunities for brands to speak to science-driven consumers. But it’s important to really get into the detail of a product’s distinctive strengths. That might mean highlighting that your product offers a complete protein source, with all the essential amino acids that the consumer needs to build the proteins in their body. You may also point out that whey is highly efficient at delivering the amino acids. 

You should also explain why these advantages matter. For a whey protein hydrolysate-based product targeted at athletic consumers, you might highlight the fact that the excellent bioavailability means it can reduce muscle damage and improve recovery times after exercise.

The ‘heritage’ and ‘ethics’ segments are perhaps less obvious areas of focus for whey protein products, but there are still opportunities to provide appealing stories for these consumers. 

For example, brands might seek to emphasize that their whey is a natural source of protein derived from grass-fed cow’s milk, which could appeal to traditionalists. For those concerned with sustainability, companies might find a compelling story around the fact that, since whey is a by-product of cheese production, they are utilizing everything from the milk rather than letting it go to waste.

Dilemmas will vary, but understanding which issues matter to your target consumer is vital if you are to craft a truly effective story. By speaking directly to their concerns, your brand can help this new generation of consumers resolve their dilemmas and forge a lasting bond.


This blog contains material and information intended for B2B customers, suppliers and distributors, and is not intended as information to the final consumers.

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This blog is a medium for all industry experts to share knowledge about and viewpoints on whey protein and lactose - and, in particular, their documented or potential benefits to the world.

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