Plant-based beverage innovation, plant protein
Plant protein sources abound as product developers strive to expand the market for plant-based beverages.

KANSAS CITY — It is no longer “gym rats,” the male cohort between the ages of 18-to-34, purchasing protein drinks today. In a gradual shift, it is women over 45 seeking high protein beverages. Many are reading articles urging them to consume more protein to improve their health, and many are acting on the advice.

More than half of consumers ages 55 and older “regard high protein as an important attribute when purchasing nutrition and performance drinks,” said Michael Averbook, food and drinks analyst for Mintel.

“Boost Simply Complete and Ensure Enlive offer nutritional drinks with high protein content and an advanced formula targeting older consumers who may need these drinks for dietary supplementation,” he said.

Since many women see high protein as an important attribute when purchasing nutrition and performance drinks, it’s no surprise that brands such as Hormel Foods’ Muscle Milk, Fairlife’s Core Power and Organic Valley’s Organic Balance products are being marketed to women.

At Niles, Ill.-based Imbibe, Inc., marketing manager Ilana Orlofsky concurred with Mr. Averbook that protein drinks are “no longer relegated for the elite athlete.” She identified protein as a “highly sought after macro-nutrient,” product developers are using to attract new consumers to the category.

Researchers and manufacturers tend to be on the same page in pointing to energy and satiety as being the primary drivers of consumer interest in protein drinks, but Ms. Orlofsky takes it one step further.

“There’s also a sexy association with protein, so many consumers strive to incorporate as much of the nutrient as possible in their diet, even though the average consumer isn’t protein deficient,” she said.

Although consumers want the convenience protein beverages offer, they also want flavor, the more indulgent the better. Manufacturers understand this but are aware of the need to mask off flavors in product development.

“Historically, indulgent flavors have worked well with protein drinks because of their ability to mask sometimes off-putting attributes,” Ms. Orlofsky said. “We see indulgent flavors commonly in better-for-you products. Flavor innovation in this space sometimes presents technical challenges due to the complex chemistry and the instability of protein.”

Notwithstanding the challenges, she’s come across some interesting flavors in protein drinks. Standouts include vanilla chai, horchata, nitro beet, savory herbs, peanut butter cereal milk, passion fruit, Snickerdoodle, and lemonade.