ANAHEIM, CALIF. — Food and beverage marketers promoted the protein content — animal- or plant-based (or both) — of their recent innovations at Natural Products Expo West, held March 9-12 in Anaheim. At the historically vegetarian and granola trade show, dairy and meat proteins were as prevalent as proteins derived from grains, nuts and pulses.

This should be no surprise, as protein was identified as the most sought out nutrient by U.S. shoppers, according to the 2016 Food and Health Survey from the International Food Information Council Foundation (I.F.I.C.), Washington. An impressive 64% of Americans picked protein in the survey, a statistically significant increase compared to 2015.

“Growing interest in protein has expanded the appeal of sports nutrition products to a wider audience that includes a variety of lifestyles and generations looking for easy, high-quality nutrition,” said Kara McDonald, vice-president of global marketing communications, U.S. Dairy Export Council, Arlington, Va. “On-the-go protein-rich products make getting the nutrient simple, without preparation and without a large investment.”


At Natural Products Expo West, ProYo, Santa Barbara, Calif., launched low-fat ice cream with 10 grams of protein and 120 calories per half-cup serving. The brand made its initial debut four years ago as a high-protein frozen yogurt novelty. The new better-for-you ice cream is made possible through a proprietary combination of skim milk, whole milk, whey protein concentrate, xylitol and inulin with other ingredients, which helps keep sugars at 9 grams per serving, along with delivering 3 grams of fiber.

Dreaming Cow Creamery, Pavo, Ga., the maker of grass-fed and 100% pasture-raised cream-top yogurt, rolled out Lush. This nutrient-dense yogurt drink is made from the same milk used for its yogurts, which is combined with fruits, one full serving of vegetables and more than 20 billion probiotics. Lush comes in a square-round 12-oz plastic bottle designed for merchandising in either the refrigerated produce section or the yogurt aisle. The four varieties are: blueberry, boysenberry, purple carrot & beet; lemon, passionfruit, carrot & pumpkin; peach, ginger, pumpkin & carrot; and strawberry, raspberry, purple carrot & beet. A single bottle contains 230 to 250 calories, 9 to 11 grams of fat, 11 to 13 grams of protein and 15 to 23 grams of sugar, depending on variety.

Morton Grove, Ill.-based Lifeway Foods debuted Ceremonial Matcha Organic Kefir. This new kefir variety is packed with 11 grams of protein and 30 milligrams of caffeine (from the addition of organic matcha green tea powder) per 8-oz serving. Matcha is an antioxidant-rich superfood known for its ability to boost memory, energy, alertness and mood. The probiotic product is naturally gluten free, low in fat and 99% void of lactose.

Horizon Organic Protein+ chocolate milk comes in a 10-oz bottle. It is sold as an individual unit, as well as in four-packs and club store boxes of a dozen. 

Other new dairy products touting protein content included Cold Brew High Brew Coffee + Protein, which relies on low-fat milk and milk protein isolate to deliver 12 grams of protein per 8-oz. can. WhiteWave Foods, Denver, showcased redesigned packaging for its reformulated Horizon Organic Protein+ single-serve chocolate milk, which deliver 15 grams of protein (from nonfat milk and milk protein concentrate) in every 10-oz. bottle. The brand is also entering the cheese snack category with Horizon Good & Go! This is a line of organic cheese and a side, which come in single-serve dual-compartment packs. The three combinations are: cheddar with pretzels, cheddar with cashews, raisins and sweetened dried cranberries, and colby and dried apple. The snacks contain 130 to 140 calories, 7 to 10 grams of fat and 5 to 7 grams of protein, depending on variety. The packs come in five-pack merchandising units for easy display. 

Dairy substitutes have long been a prominent part of Natural Products Expo West. Historically these products were made from soy, and then later, almond, coconut and other nuts or grains. Manufacturing restraints prevented most of these products from being good sources of high-quality (contain all essential amino acids) protein and were marketed mostly as vegan and lactose-free options. Sensory improvements in pea protein and other legumes are now making it possible to offer plant protein dairy alternatives.

For example, Califia Farms, Los Angeles, has reformulated and extended its line of Protein Almondmilk to now offer 8 grams of protein per serving, which is comparable in protein content to an 8-oz glass of dairy milk. The protein comes from rice, peas and maca root powder. The line includes Maca-‘Nilla (vanilla and cardamom), Choc-A-Maca (chocolate) and Maca-Spresso (coffee).

Berkeley, Calif.-based Rebbl debuted Cold-Brew Protein, which delivers 12 grams of protein from peas and sunflowers in a coconut milk and cold-brew coffee base. The Campbell Soup Co.’s C-Fresh division, Camden, N.J., gave Natural Products Expo West attendees a sneak peek at the company’s pea protein plant-based milk, scheduled to hit dairy cases this summer. It comes in chocolate, original, unsweetened and vanilla varieties, in 12- and 48-oz plastic bottles. The product delivers 10 grams of protein per 8-oz serving, all from non-G.M.O. pea protein.

Seattle-based Vana Life Foods offers shelf-stable vegan meals based on legumes, with green chickpeas as the primary ingredient. A single-serve microwaveable pouch contains 9 to 11 grams of plant protein.

Grain-based snacks enhanced with protein were plentiful at the exhibition. Munk Pack, Greenwich, Conn., showcased its new line of gluten-free cookies with 18 grams of plant-based protein per cookie with no soy, dairy or eggs. The protein comes from nuts, grains and brown rice protein.

Our Little Rebellion, Liberty, N.Y., debuted non-G.M.O. and gluten-free light and crispy protein-packed popped snacks named Protein Crisps. Boasting 10 grams of plant-based protein per serving, the crisps come in hot buffalo, sweet and smoky barbecue and wasabi ginger varieties.

BiPro USA, Eden Prairie, Minn., added Berry Burst to its line of BiPro Protein Water, joining Lemon Lift and Peach Power. Each 16.9-oz bottle delivers 20 grams of protein. Ingredient legends feature only five items: water, whey protein isolate, phosphoric acid, natural flavor and stevia extract. A bottle contains zero grams of fat, sugar and carbohydrates and is just 90 calories.

Some innovators find that combining animal and plant proteins allows them to achieve a higher protein content per serving. This is particularly true in grain-based foods.

For example, FlapJacked, Westminster, Colo., debuted a line of high-protein, gluten-free cookie mixes with 10 grams of protein per two cookies. Made with a combination of whey and pea protein, flavors include chocolate chip, double chocolate and oatmeal.

Egg whites for protein, dates to bind and nuts for texture — those are the core ingredients in the RXBAR from the Chicago-based namesake company. Each 52-gram bar contains 12 grams of protein. 

Good Zebra, New York, introduced animal crackers in chai, lemon and vanilla flavors. A 60-gram pack provides 12 grams of protein from whey, pea and egg white.

Another option is to combine animal proteins, such as meat and cheese in a handy snack pack. Chef’s Cut Real Jerky, New York, introduced jerky and cheese snack packs. The two varieties of 1.5-oz protein packs are smoked beef original recipe with cheddar cheese and smoked turkey teriyaki with pepper jack cheese. The cheese is dehydrated, enabling the snack packs to be shelf stable. Gluten free and with no nitrites, the snack packs provide 16 or 17 grams of protein, respectively.

A number of fish, meat and poultry products — as is, in prepared meals or dried into jerky — made their debut at Natural Products Expo West. Products carried descriptors such as “no antibiotics ever” and “no nitrites.”  Fish marketers often emphasized their sustainable sourcing, as well as the omega-3 fatty acid content of the products.

Season Brand, Newark, N.Y., introduced sardines packed in organic extra virgin olive oil. The package touts claims such as “certified sustainable,” “wild caught” and “friend of the sea.”

Grass fed is a growing trend in the natural meat snack category and an important attribute for SlantShack Jerky, Jersey City, N.J. The company works with family farms throughout the Northeast to source sustainably raised grass-fed beef that gets handcrafted into flavorful jerky with the help of unique marinades, spice rubs and glazes. The company recently reformulated its products that now come in carne asada, classic, maple garlic and spicy red rub varieties.

Grainful, Ithaca, N.Y., is growing its frozen entrees line with chana masala, jambalaya and ranchero chicken varieties. Based on 100% whole grain steel cut oats, which contribute some plant protein, the entrees also include beans and/or meat, with each meal providing 10 to 16 grams of protein.