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Protein powders for an expanding consumer base

Protein powder use among natural consumers is on the rise, according to SPINS data. While the US$892.5 million protein powders segment grew 4.2% over the past year (the 52 weeks ending April 21, 2019), sales in the natural channel of retail grocers grew 8.8% to $156.1 million, outpacing growth for the greater cross-channel segment. Tracking the sales of naturally positioned products across multiple retail channels shows that natural items also outpaced the greater segment’s growth, up 13.2% to $350.5 million as consumers increasingly seek clean, high-quality protein without artificial ingredients in a broader range of outlets. Even within the conventional marketplace, demand for natural protein powders is significantly increasing. Overall dollar sales of protein powders in the mainstream conventional multi-outlet channel was up 3.2% to $724.2 million, with sales for naturally positioned products climbing at a much faster rate of 17.2% to $196.0 million, while more conventionally positioned products remained relatively stable with a slight 1.1% decline to $528.1 million.

Natural Attributes and Ingredients Fuel Growth

As further evidence of consumer interest in clean-label protein powder products, label claims such as grass-fed, non-GMO, and organic showed significant growth over the past year, as well. Sales for protein powders labeled as grass-fed grew 92.3% to $21.6 million as grass-fed becomes a benchmark for quality and an important production standard regarding animal welfare to the natural consumer. Protein powders labeled as non-GMO grew 9.8%to $235.6 million, while products without labeled non-GMO ingredients were in decline. Certified-organic protein powders grew 33.7% to $136.9 million, and protein powders with any amount of organic content grew 8.2% to $220.7 million. While use of artificial sweeteners in protein powders is still prevalent in conventionally positioned products, sales for products in the segment that contain artificial sweeteners showed decline, dropping 14.3% to $255.6 million. Protein powders sweetened with stevia (a natural, zero-calorie, herbal sweetener) or alternative sweetener blends containing stevia grew 6.4% to $223.2 million.

Cultural Influences Bring New Consumers to the Segment

In addition to the natural consumer, other shopper groups are jumping at the chance to use protein powder to meet nutritional needs. “Health and wellness is quickly becoming health and fitness, led by a newer wellness community culture that recognizes the importance of exercise and fitness to overall health,” said Scott Dicker, client support lead and subject matter expert in sports nutrition at SPINS. “This movement drives dedicated fitness enthusiasts and weekend warriors alike to fuel efficiently for exercise and looks to protein for workout recovery and to reduce muscle soreness.”

Popular exercise trends such as CrossFit often promote dietary strategies as part of a lifestyle, bridging the gap between wellness and fitness verticals, and increasing demand for products that support specific ways of eating, such as paleo- or keto-positioned products. SPINS data show that paleo-positioned protein powders soared 55.7%, to $34.1 million, as the popularity of paleo and related ways of eating remain strong.

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Protein powder products: Differentiating in a crowded market

Protein is booming, and powders have played a huge role in delivering efficacious amounts of protein to sports nutrition consumers looking to build and maintain muscle mass. Tubs of ready-to-mix (RTM) protein powders have long been a visual mainstay of many sports nutrition stores, aisles and sections, and powdered ingredients are also used to fill sports supplement capsules and provide muscle to bars and beverages. However, the protein powder market is crowded, and the consumer shift to wanting higher protein intake via foods and beverages instead of supplements only adds to the challenges of making a protein powder-based product stand out and be successful.

For companies playing in the RTM protein powder space, differentiation requires innovative flavors and ingredient combinations, as well as enhanced bioavailability and responsible sourcing. The protein ready-to-drink (RTD) market is seeing increasing numbers of clear or water beverages with high protein content, in addition to new hot protein RTD products. The food segment has exploded with high-protein offerings as companies have found ways to infuse protein into an array of everyday foods and snacks. In every corner of the protein powder market, new technologies are supporting innovation.

The size and future of the protein supplement market varies depending on which market expert you ask, but Allied Market Research and Marqual IT Solutions Pvt. Ltd (KBV Research) both predicted around 7.5% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over the next five or six years and a resultant market of US$8.7 billion. Zion Market Research calculated the CAGR at 5.7% and a size of $3.6 billion heading into 2024. Either way, the segment is expected to enjoy solid growth worldwide.

On the animal side, whey protein is set to grow 7.6% to $12.5 billion by 2024, according to Statista. On the plant side, the global pea protein market was about $101.7 million (all uses) in 2018 and should grow at a 17.4% CAGR through 2025, reported Grand View Research. Persistence Market Research reported organic pea protein should grow at an even more robust 7.2% CAGR through 2027.

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Flavor and function considerations when pumping up protein volume

Consumers increasingly are hitting the road to wellness and seeking out products high in protein to fuel their bodies before, during and after workout. Fortunately, today’s array of protein-rich sports nutrition products is in sharp contrast to yesteryear’s ready-to-mix (RTM), ready-to-drink (RTD) powders and energy bars that often fell short on flavor and taste.

Brands looking to enter the mainstream sports nutrition space must remember taste is always No. 1 in consumers’ minds, which means food developers must balance the beneficial effects of increasing protein content with the final product’s texture, appearance, taste and stability.

Plant proteins are available in isolates—including powders used for fortification—fractionated concentrates, and whole-food ingredients that are naturally high in protein and lend texture, color and flavor to foods and beverages. In addition to vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients and dietary fiber are other inherent benefits naturally packaged into wholefood sources of plant proteins. Furthermore, plant proteins meet several dietary needs.

“Consumer choices are driven by their quest to increase the repertoire of plant-based foods and protein in their diet as they directly link consumption to a healthier lifestyle,” said Melissa Sheridan, strategic marketing director, functional ingredients and additives, Kerry. “It is also linked to many consumers reducing their meat consumption, adopting a ‘flexitarian approach’ and an interest in a more sustainable food production system.”

While dairy proteins such as whey and casein traditionally have been the go-to proteins for building muscle, plant proteins are taking center stage as consumers look for ways to reduce their intake of animal-derived foods. However, the rapid advancement of plant-based proteins has created two key issues facing developers: mouthfeel and lingering off-flavors.

Consider pea protein, which can impart an earthy, grassy or beany aftertaste and gritty texture. Product developers typically will add other ingredients such as prebiotic fibers to change the texture of the protein and make it more palatable, noted longtime sports nutrition formulator Bruce Kneller, currently a partner with HiQ Financial Holdings Inc.

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Body boosting ingredients for the serious athlete

10_17 Body Boosting Ingredients

Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are incredibly popular with hardcore athletes and body builders. BCAAs include leucine, isoleucine and valine, which are essential amino acids that humans only get from food and beverage because the body doesn’t make them on its own. Among the benefits of BCAA products  are stimulation of muscle protein synthesis (MPS), prevention of muscle breakdown and delaying of muscle fatigue.1

There are hundreds of BCAA products on the market, and some of the most popular brands include Cellucor, BPI Sports and Dymatize. BCAA supplements are most often sold as powders with sweet and citrus flavors, but brands such as Optimum Nutrition and Scivation have developed ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages, as well.

Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the human body and is the basis of connective tissues that help give structure to tendons, ligaments, skin, bones and teeth. It is also sold as a supplement in products that are rapidly growing in popularity. The ingredientworks with endogenous hyaluronic acid (HA) to improve joint health,2 enhance hair,3 skin4 and nails.5 As a bonus, it may also help repair muscle tissue, although whey and casein are generally regarded as more effective for that purpose.6

The source of the collagen isn’t quite so sexy. It comes from animals such as cattle, fish, turkeys and chickens, which means it is not vegan and can cause issues with a product’s kosher status. Allergenic concerns also need to be taken into consideration for sensitive consumers. Formulating with collagen can be challenging because it can have solubility issues, but brands such as Eviva Collagen Elixir, Beauty & Go and Pure Gold Collagen have successfully developed RTD collagen supplements. Many collagen protein powders are on the market, as well, including in  brands such as NeoCell, Ancient Nutrition, Vital Proteins and Sports Research.

Micellar casein is an up-and-coming ingredient for active consumers and is generally regarded as the most effective form of casein compared to similar ingredients like calcium caseinate. It is the slowest digested caseinate protein and is a source of high-quality BCAAs and glutamine.

“The mechanism of action is a stark contrast to hydrolyzed whey, which is known for fast-acting, quick absorption into the body,” explained Jason Dompeling, beverage scientist at Imbibe. “Micellar casein is known for very slow absorption. The casein micelles form a sort of ‘clot’ in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract that slow down the protein breakdown and amino acid absorption.”

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Powders dominate key sports nutrition categories

Powders Dominate Key Sports Nutrition Categories

Powder-based formulas are all over the lists of best-selling sports nutrition products at top retailers including Amazon, Walmart and Bodybuilding.com. Powder products dominate certain categories more than others. For instance, Amazon’s protein, pre-workout and post-workout/recovery categories are mostly owned by powder products, specifically ready-to-mix (RTM) formulas.

Mixable powders more popular in sports nutrition compared to other sports nutrition formats, including capsules, bars and ready-to-drink (RTD) products.

Capsules have the advantage of more easily hiding off flavors and not having to contend with liquid from consumer mixing before use. However, consumers increasingly seek more food- and drink-like experiences rather than a litany of pills, so RTM powders offer a way for consumers to drink their sports supplements in a range of palatable flavors. Further, RTM powders often involve “scoops,” each of which delivers anywhere from 5 g to more than 30 g of ingredients. It would take many capsules to deliver an equivalent amount of product.

For ingredients such as protein, which is typically dosed at 20 to 30 g per serving, powders are the primary delivery format, followed by RTD and bar products. RTD sports nutrition products can deliver the amounts of protein sports nutrition consumers want and offer pleasurable convenience, but they cost more to ship (no water content) and have a shorter shelf life than RTM products, especially with high-protein products.

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