Grain-based breakfast items make an ideal carrier for the extra protein consumers seek.

Not too long ago, mainstream consumers largely ignored protein on the Nutrition Facts panel. For the most part, protein is not deficient in the American diet, and efforts to consume additional protein were considered something for athletes and body builders.

This is no longer the case. Protein’s documented ability to assist with weight loss and management by helping control hunger, provide lasting energy, aid in sports recovery and maintain muscle mass with aging has made it one of the hottest nutrients of the decade. As a result, all types of food and beverage manufacturers are adding everything from algae to pulses to whey to give their products a protein boost, often claiming it to be a “good” (at least 5 g protein per serving) or “excellent” (10 g or more protein per serving) source of this macronutrient.

According to “Proteins — Classic, Alternative and Exotic Sources: Culinary Trend Tracking Series,” a report from Packaged Facts, Rockville, MD, 62% of consumers agree they are “making a point of getting enough protein” from the foods and beverages they consume.

“Americans continue to seek out protein for a variety of health and wellness concerns, and to increase maintenance, growth and repair functions of the body,” said David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts. “With the popularity of diets like Paleo, Primal and Atkins, protein has been the darling of lean diets for more than two decades and ties more broadly into the consumer quest for health-and-wellness foods and beverages to address specific health concerns. This presents a unique opportunity for food manufacturers, retailers and restaurants.”

In the bakery

Bakers have taken note. Although baked goods are best known as a source of carbohydrates, through the use of new and novel ingredients, innovative bakers are able to give their products a boost of protein and increase their appeal with protein-savvy consumers.

“Because consumers associate protein with satiety and weight management, grain-based breakfast items are ideal food products to provide a protein punch since consumers connect the dots between breakfast and a healthy start,” said Sarah Wood, senior applications scientist, Penford Food Ingredients, Centennial, CO. “Recently, the snack category exploded with a plethora of healthy options from ingredient inclusions to portion size,” she said. “Protein is one of several enriching approaches to create a healthy snacking experience.”

Whey and soy proteins have a natural affinity and work well in protein-fortified portable foods, such as bars and cookies.

Toby Moore, baking professional, AIB International, Manhattan, KS, added, “The average non-vegetarian American already gets plenty of protein in his or her diet, so high-protein mainly appeals to very active 20- and 30-somethings. But breads and cakes are seen as old-timers’ foods by a lot of millennials, so cookies, bars and crackers may play better with that crowd.”

Portable foods are where the action is when it comes to protein fortification. “In addition to baked grain-based bars, protein-fortified biscuits, crackers and cookies could be appealing to athletes,” said Troy Boutte, PhD, group manager-bakery/fats and oils, DuPont Nutrition & Health, New Century, KS. “These products are nutrient-dense, are light to carry and have long shelf lives. In addition, biscuits and crackers can be made with high protein levels while maintaining very acceptable flavor and textural attributes.”