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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. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Premium chocolate is increasingly populist

Packaged Facts' report on Chocolate Candy in the U.S. shows that chocolate dollar sales rose in 2011 while unit sales remained flat, meaning that even recession-battered consumers have proven willing to pay more for their chocolate. 

So chocolate makers need not worry as much as other food marketers about rising prices. Not much will deter consumers from indulging in this affordable luxury.   Moreover, despite boom times for store brands in the packaged food and beverage industry overall, not much will convince consumers to save money by switching from their favorite brands.  In mass-market outlets, store brands account for 21% of unit sales of microwave popcorn, but only 1% of sales of chocolate bars.

Consumers in fact are increasingly looking to chocolate to satisfy discriminating tastes and demands, reflecting in part the raising-the-bar influence of foodie culture.  For example, sales of organic chocolate in the natural food channel were up a whopping 20% in 2011, according to SPINSscan data cited in our report. 

Chocolate manufacturers have taken note that premium is increasingly populist.  Companies that traditionally kept to a narrow, “exclusive” retail footprint have expanded their product lines to mass-market channels, with the more upscale supermarket chains and outlets among the favored outposts.  And brands that were mostly known for gifting have partially re-positioned themselves as everyday treats, whether for self-indulgence or for sharing with others.  Nothing is more popular than sharing, and nothing is more democratic than chocolate decadence.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ice cream as personal stimulus package

Despite the Great Recession, ice cream and frozen desserts are doing well for one simple reason:  they are comfort items that make people happy.  (Ditto for dogs.)  Edvard Munch's iconic "The Scream" recently sold for a record $120 million at auction in New York, but that's chopped peanuts compared with the $25.1 billion U.S. market for ice cream and frozen desserts, up 2.4% over the previous year despite the hard times.
This is nothing new.  Ice cream and frozen desserts have long provided “small indulgence” respites from economic woes, with some of today’s most popular brands and flavors having been introduced or popularized during the Great Depression.  Among these are Carvel, Friendly’s Ice Cream, Good Humor, and Rocky Road—a flavor created by Dreyer’s in 1929 and named “to give folks something to smile about." (Ditto for candy bars, which flourished in the Depression era—think Payday, introduced in 1932.)
Recession aside, ice cream and frozen desserts have long had a huge consumer following in the U.S., both at retail and on the foodservice side.  According to a March 2012 survey conducted by Packaged Facts, almost three out of four U.S. adults (73%) eat ice cream or frozen desserts.  Not surprisingly, consumers enjoy more of these treats in the summer, but the recent unusually warm winter boosted business during the first quarter.  Some 86% of adults who eat ice cream/frozen desserts have done so at home (or someone else’s home) within the last six months, two out of five have bought ice cream or frozen desserts at a scoop shop for take-out during this timeframe, and one out of four has enjoyed these products sitting down in a scoop shop and/or at a restaurant after a meal.
In the retail arena, recent launches making a big splash include frozen Greek yogurt, TCBY frozen yogurt,  Unilever’s Magnum ice cream bars, and NestlĂ©’s new Wonka Ice Cream brand.  That Mediterranean Diet to Willie Wonka arc tells the story: while households with children remain the heaviest consumers of ice cream, the industry continues to shift toward premium and superpremium formulations that target adult palates.  Store brands correspondingly have gotten more sophisticated—think Wegman's Food You Feel Good About Organic Dark Chocolate Ice Cream. The main reason, of course, is the aging of the U.S. population.  Older consumers might or might not count calories, but they are more likely to want their calories to count.   Another is that self-indulging adults are less sensitive to price changes.  Flavor is critical to product success, but witty product names and marketing campaigns don’t hurt, either.  And while comfort has been the name of the game during the recession,  consumers are likely to swing to celebratory splurges as the economy improves.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Anti-time in a bottle

Flawless skin. Silky hair. Lustrous lips. Anyone who has ever walked a drugstore beauty aisle is aware of the promises made by the array of lotions and potions populating store shelves. Cosmeceutical marketers are working hard to deliver on these promises, investing research and development dollars to create products that offer not only beautification of the outside, but actual treatment of skin and hair conditions from the outside in.

As reported in Packaged Facts’ Cosmeceuticals in the U.S. (April 2012), consumers are looking for skin care, hair care and color cosmetic products that will improve their appearance virtually overnight (in the spirit, if not at the cost, of the surge in quick-fix plastic surgery) while also demonstrably delivering long-term improvements to skin and hair health.  According to Packaged Facts’ March 2012 online consumer survey, 28% of respondents purchase anti-aging-specific skin care or cosmetic products, and 15% purchase skin care and cosmetic products due to their antioxidant content claims.

Prompting the growth in demand for these products is the “graying of America” and Boomers’ desire to keep the effects of aging at bay.  Also influencing growth in the cosmeceuticals market is the insistence of recession-battered consumers on getting more for the money—and indeed cosmeceuticals typically offer the performance of standard products plus extra health benefits, usually in the form of added marquee ingredients. 

Typically these marquee ingredients are "natural," and many hail from the food and beverage aisles, capitalizing on headline food and nutrient trends.  Marketers have long worked the overlap between the natural cosmetics market and cosmeceuticals, as consumer demand for natural but functional ingredients to replace undesirable chemicals in their products has risen to an all-time high. 

Particularly strong sellers are mass-market versions of high-end products at price points more palatable to middle-class shoppers.  Many consumers are willing to buy more expensive mass-market moisturizers and conditioners when they are presented or perceived as a relative bargain compared to department store and salon products (if not to old school, standard formula mass-market personal care).
So what do cosmeceutical consumers want?  Paradoxically, instant and long-term anti-aging that's natural--and affordable.  Convenience is taken for granted.