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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bodybuilders beware: Grandma is eyeing your protein stash

Interest in protein has been heating up over the last few years, and not just for the serious athlete or weekend warrior.  Protein is increasingly seen as the closest thing to a secret weapon for fighting the war on obesity, especially at breakfast.  Protein also is becoming recognized as critical to maintaining muscle mass over the age of 40, with the need for protein ratcheting up with each passing decade.  While it has long been considered that American (and Western diets in general) are overabundant in dietary protein, recent research suggests that higher levels of protein intake may be beneficial both for appetite control to help with weight management and to fend off muscle loss among older consumers.   And yes, protein is still important for athletes and exercise enthusiasts to help rebuild muscle after workouts. 
More good news:  Protein is no longer relegated to bars and shakes.  Food and beverage manufacturers are starting to boost the protein content of “real” foods and beverages across numerous categories through ingredient additions for that specific purpose, as well as through deliberate formulation to achieve target protein levels, often associated with making content claims (e.g. “good source”).  Companies are also adding the word “protein” to their brand names to distinguish them from ho hum, me-too line extensions in otherwise crowded categories.

Protein alternatives to meat are not only addressing the needs of flexitarians, vegetarians and vegans, but also traditional carnivores who are embracing the notion of “Meatless Mondays” (or other meat-free episodes), whether on health, sustainability, economic or other grounds.    And many of these meat alternatives have appeal that goes well beyond their protein content.  Take the ancient grain quinoa, for example, which offers consumers a back to the future adventure in culinary history right along with its impressive protein content and quality. 
Protein also has the power to add real food value to reinvigorate declining categories and brands.  Think of those commoditized canned and packaged goods stuck in the center aisles of the supermarket.  Protein can also be leveraged to help create new or strengthen existing consumer targets, especially when products are specifically tailored specifically to sports performance, satiety and weight management, or maintaining muscle mass in older adults. 
As argued in Packaged Facts’ upcoming report on Protein Ingredients for Nutritional Enhancement of Food and Beverages, this last area offers one of the most compelling market opportunities for protein ingredients and products.  Packaged Facts predicts that the deliberate delivery of protein in real food and beverage products targeting Baby Boomers and senior citizens will become big business.  The protein needs of this group are significant, yet many are just beginning to discover this fact.  Food and beverage manufacturers can get in on the ground floor to educate and offer convenient and tasty foods and beverages for meal and snack occasions. 
So, bodybuilders and athletes out there, hang on tight to your protein bars and shakes until AARP members have plenty of protein choices of their own.  Then remember to thank them for sparking protein product innovation. 

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