There is a wealth of protein ingredients on the market from traditional meat, dairy and pulses to emerging ones such as mycoprotein, insects and cultured meat. The big question, however, is how to actually transform these ingredients into a successful final product?
"We’ve seen protein as a trend evolve over the last five to seven years and it’s interesting to see how it has developed from the online, sports nutrition category into mainstream retail channels,” said Roseanna Evans, research and marketing consultant at HRA Food & Drink, during a roundtable discussion at Protein Vision earlier this month.
However, she said the industry needed to educate consumers more on the importance for protein outside of these specialist segments.
“Protein has a problem in that when most consumers think protein they think of body builders, athletes and very active people. What really needs to be communicated is that actually protein is for everyone. It’s like a chicken and egg situation.
“Brands have a tendency to think short-term and position their high-protein products to active consumers. It’s logical but those people are guaranteed to buy them but manufacturer find it difficult to absorb the risk of positioning protein products to consumers who don’t normally buy them.”
Taste trumps whatever story you have to tell
According to Friedrich Büse, founder and partner at German healthy eating brand, Amidori, the most important thing for any product, regardless of category or positioning, is taste.
“When we started out at Amidori, plant proteins were quite new so we listened to market research and got a lot of information that put us on the wrong direction.”
It decided to develop its own idea of what consumers want by launching a street food campaign that toured around Germany gathering feedback on its products. “When you give something away for free people are always nice but when they pay for it, they are really honest because they expect good quality.”
The experience taught Amidori the importance of taste. “Whatever protein content or source you have, the most important thing is taste. If people buy the product and don’t like it, you can tell them whatever story you want, they still won’t come back and buy it again.”
That said, Büse said Amidori does see itself as on a “farm-to-fork mission”, and the sourcing and origin of its ingredients, such as peas, oats and rice, are a big part of its branding.
The manufacturer, which Büse considers to still be a start-up despite counting over 100 employees, only uses European ingredients.
This makes things a little more complicated, he said, but it is an important part of its ideology. “Why ship things from half-way around the world when we have what we need right here?”
In terms of developing or expanding new categories, a starting point for manufacturers should be to look at “consumption occasions and opportunities”, said Nick Kirby, shopper and e-commerce analytics director at Bridgethorne.
“You need to tap into the eating habits that are changing.” If it’s about delivering a snack on-the-go, that will change the format of the product.
Meanwhile, e-commerce as a channel to growth has a role to play but brands shouldn’t write off traditional retailers, Kirby said.
“If your target consumer is a young audience that is more likely to be shopping online then e-commerce might well be the way to go but otherwise, finding a strategic retail partner to launch your product with could give better returns.”