The power of protein will be tested in 2014

by Keith Nunes
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KANSAS CITY — A flood of new food and beverage products featuring added protein have hit the market in the past few years and it is going to be interesting to see how they perform this year. While consumer interest in adding protein to their diets may be high, the need is not readily apparent.

Ken Powell, chairman and chief executive officer of General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, made this point Feb. 21 during the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference when he noted, “Americans don’t need more protein in their diet. It is the newest approach to weight management.

“Where you see Greek yogurt taking share away from low calorie options, a part of it is understanding how consumers are approaching weight management.”

What is currently taking place is the manufacturing of a need for an ingredient that happens to have a health halo attached. Really, the only two markets where a need for additional protein is present are amongst aging consumers who are interested in staving off the loss of muscle, and athletes interested in improving or maintaining performance.

General Mills has launched a number of protein enhanced products, including Fiber One Protein cereals, Nature Valley Protein granola and Fiber One meal bars. The products are in addition to the company’s assortment of Yoplait regular and Greek yogurt products, which are naturally high in protein.

But General Mills is far from the only company trying to capture share in the added protein market. Hillshire Brands, Kraft Foods, Post Foods, WhiteWave Foods and Clif Bar & Co. have all recently developed products to capitalize on the trend.

The trouble is, as Mr. Powell rightly noted, there is not a need for additional protein in the North American diet. Food and beverage companies looking to capitalize on the protein trend are actually trying to gain traction in the market for weight management and satiety products, and that market segment is littered with product launches that peaked and declined as the consumer’s attention shifted to the latest ingredient du jour.

Weight management may be a top of mind topic for many North American consumers, but the components of the trend are constantly shifting. In the past, weight management has evolved from low-fat products to low-carbohydrate to low-calorie and eventually to today’s iteration — protein.

There is no way to predict how long the protein trend will last, but it is a safe bet the products that achieve sustained success will be those that are naturally high in protein, such as dairy products and meats. Other products may face the same circumstances former products faced as the weight management trend moved on.
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