CHICAGO — The average consumer holds a positive opinion on protein, and the baking industry should take advantage of this, said Jerrod Adkins, owner of UnbelievaBuns, which offers high-protein and low-carbohydrate buns.

“Protein consumption is on the rise, and it will continue to rise,” he said in a March 1 session at the American Society of Baking’s BakingTech in Chicago. “I think it’s our biggest opportunity as an industry.”

Protein over the decades has avoided the amount of criticism dumped on other nutrients like fat and sugar, said Donna Berry, editor and consultant at Dairy & Food Communications, Inc. and a contributing editor for Sosland Publishing Co.

“I feel like it’s the only macronutrient that has not been demonized in my lifetime,” she said.

The average consumer uses 4 oz of meat on a sandwich or burger, leading to 30 to 32 grams of protein in total, Mr. Adkins said. He recommended cutting the amount of meat in half, to 2 oz, and using a high-protein bun, one that would allow a sandwich or burger to still have 30 to 32 grams of protein. Consumers eating less meat would bring sustainability benefits, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by the cattle industry.

“What if we made a bread that had just as much protein as beef, chicken or pork?” he said.

Mr. Adkins gave several examples of ingredients that may pack protein into baked foods. Sacha inchi, which is 60% protein, is a fine mesh flour with a nutty flavor. Pumpkin seed, at 30% protein, is a milled coarse flour with a higher fat content that may make it a good option for keto-friendly bread. Chia seed flour, at 20% protein, contains 4 grams of net carbohydrates per 100 grams of flour.

Protein panelFrom left, Donna Berry, editor and consultant at Dairy & Food Communications, Inc.; Jerrod Adkins, owner of UnbelievaBuns; and Sarah Miller, senior marketing insights manager, North American insights leader for Kerry. Source: Sosland Publishing Co.Besides products with more protein, consumers are looking for items that contain fewer carbohydrates, lower levels of sugar and no GMOs, Mr. Adkins said.

Creating products that may relieve stress is another opportunity for the baking industry, Ms. Berry said.

“It’s extremely popular with the younger generation,” she said. “It’s seeking out foods with attributes that are soothing, calming, not just energizing or satiating.”

She pointed to the International Food Information Council’s 2022 Food and Health Survey, which found 56% of respondents said they either were very stressed or somewhat stressed.

Some ingredients are known to rejuvenate, soothe and reduce anxiety.

“Lavender is a big one,” Ms. Berry said. “You put in a little spray of lavender, and I am in like Heaven.”

Peppermint, chamomile and jasmine are other examples of healing and soothing ingredients.

“All of these ingredients are coming into play and are opportunities for baked goods,” Ms. Berry said.

AI (artificial intelligence) allows the Kerry Group, which has a US office in Beloit, Wis., to spot trends, said Sarah Miller, senior marketing insights manager, North American insights leader.

Kerry research has shown social media mentions are increasing for blueberry pancakes, not just in the United States but globally, she said. While consumers may think of blueberry pancakes as a traditional, nostalgic food, they also may contain new ingredients like coconut sugar, almond butter and even fresh salsa. Queso fresco may give blueberry pancakes a Mexican or South American influence.