CHICAGO — Plant protein has grown like weeds in such items as snack chips, nutrition bars and cereal, but consumers still consider meat, poultry and fish the best sources of the nutrient. In a recent report, The NPD Group, Chicago, found more than 60% of Americans eat animal protein in a typical day.

Leading in what consumers perceive as the best protein sources are beef and chicken, followed by fish, turkey, pork, ham, and bacon. Top non-meat proteins include eggs, milk, Greek yogurt, cheese, beans and lentils. A smaller percentage of consumers prefer protein-enriched bars and shakes, nuts and nut butters, and tofu for a protein fix.

More than three-fourths of consumers agree protein contributes to a healthy diet, but only 16% look at a product’s protein content when shopping for groceries. Nearly half of consumers say they aren’t necessarily concerned about protein consumption; rather, they eat and buy protein without much consideration. NPD segmented the remaining consumers into three categories: traditional protein purists (18%), flexible protein users (14%), and knowledgeable but indifferent (19%).

For the traditionalists, who are more likely to consume animal proteins over alternative sources, products with natural and hormone-free positioning resonate. The flexible users are more likely to be on a diet and shop at specialty stores. These consumers are more open-minded about protein sources and are vigilant researchers when shopping for groceries. The knowledgeable but indifferent segment of consumers is less likely to consume protein daily and consider protein-enriched products on par with naturally present protein sources.

“While traditional protein purists stick to their traditional meat sources for protein, they are also likely to have more meals that are rounded out with vegetables and grains,” says Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst. “Unlike flexible protein users, it would be difficult to convince these protein consumers to use a different protein source than animal protein.  For food manufacturers and retailers to reach this group, it’s a matter of understanding and reflecting their needs in product development and marketing messaging.”